The 22nd Harvard China Forum (HCF) wrapped up on Sunday here, gathering dozens of scholars, business leaders and political insiders from China, the United States and other countries.
The three-day event in the Northeastern U.S. city focused on China-U.S. relations, China’s development and its impact on the world, market opportunities in China and other issues, providing a platform to foster a better understanding of China and facilitate closer ties between China and the world.
China-US Ties: Good Prospects
Throughout the forum, which was held at Harvard University, experts voiced their long-term optimism for the China-U.S. relationship and underlined the need to build mutual understanding.
Stephen Orlins, Head of the National Committee on U.S.- China Relations and also a witness of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, said that bilateral cooperation is essential in the areas of combating climate change, anti terrorism and pandemic containment.
“In the long term, I’m a strong optimist about the U.S.-China relations,” Orlins told the welcoming ceremony.
Michael Szonyi, director of the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, called for action from both sides to strengthen people-to-people exchanges in order to eliminate an “understanding deficit.”
“I would like all of you to consider U.S.- China relations not as a single, abstract relationship, but as multiple, real relationships embodied in personal connections,” Szonyi said.
To Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister and a long-time China watcher, what the bilateral ties need is “a new generation of positive stories.”
“We need a new narrative about China,” the 61-year-old veteran politician said on Sunday.
Rudd also said that Chinese overseas students in the United States could serve as a “credible and long-time bridge” between the two sides.
A Chinese youth, with an understanding of American culture and mindset, would dig out more common viewpoints and mutual interest, and seek ways to solve the remaining differences, he noted.
China Wisdom for Global Infrastructure Development
At the forum, China’s increasing involvement in economic activities worldwide in recent years became another highlight.
In a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon, Jin Liqun, President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), explained to the audience how China’s vast infrastructure expertise could bolster connectivity across the world.
“The AIIB was designed to be a multilateral development bank promoting infrastructure development, particularly connectivity,” said the head of the bank.
Jin sees the goal of AIIB’s international development financing program as promoting connectivity throughout Asia and the world, and that aligns perfectly with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Proposed by China in 2013 to promote common growth and shared benefits, the BRI involves infrastructure development, trade and investment facilitation and people-to-people exchanges that aim to improve connectivity on a trans-continental scale.
With more countries participating in the initiative, economists said that the growing popularity does reflect confidence in the prospects of the grand program.
“When it comes to the debt that some of us talked about, I would say the view that Belt and Road is a debt trap probably is overstated,” said Liu Qian, managing director of The Economist Group in Greater China, at the same event.
“If we base our assessment on China’s track record more generally, I would still be relatively optimistic as to how this Belt and Road Initiative will look like in a few years,” said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia Economics at Oxford Economics based in Hong Kong.
Education: Booming Market, Enhanced Technology
In another panel discussion on Sunday, education was the central topic. Experts shared their views on the expanding extracurricular education market in China and how U.S. resources could meet the demand.
“The next generation is not class-dependent anymore,” said panellist Allan Ruby, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
China has a big education market due to its large population as well as Chinese parents’ willingness to spend on their children’s education, said Yanyan Gong, managing director of Ocean One Capital, a Chinese investment company. For Ruby, it’s also the result of a rising Chinese middle class.
The market generates new opportunities and invites new models, Gong added.
Joseph Zhu, the co-founder of a Chinese company running an online English-teaching platform, saw the opportunity and started his business, combining the huge market in China and English-teaching resources in the United States and other English-speaking countries.
“What we do is to connect the market and the resources,” Zhu said.
Meanwhile, the experts also noted the implementation of new education technologies, including 3-D, animation and Artificial Intelligence, which play an increasingly important role in today’s society.
Over the weekend, the Harvard China Forum also offered other panels covering finance, entertainment, philanthropy, consumers and retail, and pharmaceuticals, among others.
The forum was founded in 1997. It is a student-run forum on China held in April every year.
According to a statement from the organisers, more than 1,000 people, mostly students from universities and colleges around the United States, attended the forum this year.