Locke kicks off Project Pengyou

Updated: 2011-12-13 11:16

By Mike Peters (chinadaily.com.cn)

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A passerby near the Temple Theater this weekend could be forgiven for thinking that a US-football style pep rally was going on inside. But attendees at the launch of the US embassy's Project Pengyou were cheering for a new outreach program that hopes to rally a global community of Americans who have lived and worked in China.

"I may hold the official title of US ambassador to China," said keynote speaker Gary Locke on Saturday night, "but you are the everyday US ambassadors, people who are working all over this country in business, in education, and in government relations."

Holly Chang, director of Project Pengyou, said the effort to mobilize America's "China alumni" was launched with funding from the Ford Foundation to support US President Barack Obama's "100,000 Strong Initiative". That campaign is designed to increase the number of young Americans who come to study in China.

A week of cross-cultural festivities kicked off on Saturday with an exhibition basketball game and concludes Dec 17 with a "Booey Lehoo" concert at the National Indoor Stadium featuring Will.I.Am and John Legend.

Americans have much to learn about China, Locke said, noting that "while 150,000 Chinese students have come to the US to study in the US, unfortunately only about 14,000 US students have come to Chinese universities." The US State Department says 600 times more Chinese study the English language than Americans study Mandarin, and Locke said this imbalance in knowledge can undermine strategic trust between the two countries.

More people-to-people contact is essential, he said.

"There is virtually nothing in the world of any consequence that can be solved without the participation of the US and China," Locke said to the group of about 200 expats who have spent considerable time in China.

"Your deep understanding of China will serve you and America very well. That's why we're looking for your help."

John Fitzgerald, China director for the Ford Foundation, said the foundation has invested $300 million in China since 1979 to promote education and exchange programs, and helped to rebuild social sciences in Chinese universities after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Before that, he said, the Ford Foundation invested $80 million in the US during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to endow China studies programs in the US.

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