Remarks at the Consultation on People-to-People Exchange Plenary Session

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Great Hall of the People
Beijing, China
July 10, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Vice Premier Liu. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you especially for the very eloquent and important comments that you have just made. And we are all very, very appreciative for your leadership in helping to strengthen the people-to-people ties that are, as you just said, really central to our relationship and to defining our future. So we’re very grateful to you for all of your efforts with respect to the People-to-People Exchange.

And thank you for hosting us here in the magnificent Great Hall. It’s an honor for me to be here with my delegation and particularly to be here with so many people who support not just the People-to-People Exchange, but students being able to begin at an early stage to do what both Lee Yan Hong* and Frank Hawke* have done. Thank you both for your very eloquent statements today. I think everybody here was moved and touched by them, and most particularly impressed by your statement, Frank*. By the way, you did – the one promise you kept was two kids, so you did okay. (Laughter.)

But I was particularly struck by the notion that this is not just an American dream, it’s not just a Chinese dream. There are individual people who can dream great possibilities because of their exposure to the world. And both of you are terrific examples, and it was a good moment to see each of you speak in the other person’s language. I think all of us here respected that and got the message. I would personally like to see a lot more people in our country speak not just Chinese, but many other languages, and we are working on that.

As the video suggested, this is a beautiful day for all of us, and it is both beautiful outdoors but it’s very beautiful in here too, because what we’re talking about really is fundamental to how you make a difference in the lives of people. I was struck by the fact that you took six areas and 30 topics and four hours and you turned it into 104 outcomes. It made me think you guys should just be running the world; we’ll leave it to you. (Laughter.) We’ll get outcomes very rapidly. But seriously, it’s impressive that you’ve been able to accomplish so much in that period of time.

And I particularly want to welcome those who have returned to celebrate this moment. I think we have a group of people who are the students who made the difference 35 years ago. And so if there are any 35-year-ago students here or people who were part of the first vanguard, I’d ask you to stand up so everybody here could recognize you. Are you still here? Are they here? Some of them, I think. Thirty-five year – how old are you, Frank? You’re the only one? I was told there was – (laugher and applause.) I was told that a group of others that assembled for this, but perhaps they didn’t stick around for this part of it.

This is my second opportunity to host this particular gathering, and I want to thank the very many people, the nongovernmental and private sector partners, who have come to Beijing. You are key to making this type of a program possible, and we’re very grateful to you for your support for it, and I think you represent the best – those of you who have come from America, the best of our patriotic and pioneering spirit. And I know our Chinese partners here today share in that pride.

If there is one thing that we have learned over the course of this dialogue, it’s that this kind of event and partnerships that are represented by the People-to-People Exchange don’t build themselves. They’re built by people. They’re built by you. They’re built by people who are open to the possibilities and who have a large enough spirit to accept the idea that it’s worth working at it. As the father of a Fulbright scholar and as a Secretary of State who has had the privilege of representing my country in many travels, I can’t tell you how many people I have met and meet who celebrate the fact of their education in another country in their lives.

I’m particularly proud of the fact that there are many foreign ministers, environment ministers, finance ministers, prime ministers, even presidents who look at me and say, “I loved my years at college in Boston,” or in Palo Alto or wherever it was in America that they traveled to be exposed to a different country and to get an education. I’ve seen, firsthand, the power of this kind of people-to-people program, the difference that it makes – not just the historic breakthrough of 1972 and later, but the extraordinary day-to-day difference that it makes when people get to know each other, get to know a culture, and come together as you have here today.

So Minister Hao Ping, I thank you and I thank our Under Secretary Richard Stengel for believing in this possibility and believing in building it bigger, making it more a part of our government-to-government efforts as well as our private sector initiatives. You have a beautiful saying in China: (In Chinese.) (Laughter.) Follow the past, herald the future. And heralding a brighter future is exactly what brings us here today.

I joke a little bit about getting things done in the short amount of time that you’ve been here today, but I have to tell you truthfully: It is young people who more often than not hold people accountable in government and otherwise to dreams and to aspirations. It is young people who often are the vanguard of change. It was kids in Tahrir Square in Egypt; it was kids who started what has happened in Syria. It got hijacked, but it was aspirations for a job, for an opportunity, for an education, for respect. And I think that’s what this program is really all about.

President Obama, because he recognizes the importance of this kind of exchange, set the goal four years ago of sending 100,000 American students to China by 2014. We are meeting and exceeding that goal now. It’s what has led hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to study in the United States, and it’s what inspired a young Chinese man 29 years ago to travel all the way to Muscatine, Iowa in order to conduct agricultural research. And that same man returned there two years ago when he was about to become the next leader of China.

So together, our people-to-people ties are shaping a better future. They’re shaping the understanding, each of us about the other. And I’ll just say one thing about that. A long time ago, I realized, as I was struggling to deal with public issues, as Senator Baucus, our ambassador, struggled to in the United States Senate, as we dealt with challenges about racial inequity or discrimination or other kinds of problems, and it struck me that I have never, ever met a child two and half years old, three years old, who hates anybody. They may hate going to bed and they may hate food of one kind or another, but not people.

The kind of hatred that tears at the world today is taught. It’s taught to people. It’s passed on. It’s passed on by people who do not express the kind of vision that the Vice Premier just talked about. So it’s – that’s the reason why the United States State Department is so committed to investing in the next generation of young people of Americans and other people from other countries becoming part of an exchange. That’s why we are investing and supporting about 700 Americans, and we want to raise that amount to match not just your 1,000 but to grow it, so that they can study in China each year.

We are determined to ensure that young Americans develop a deep understanding of China. And this year I’m proud to say we are elevating our partnership even further by focusing on health, which is a global challenge that demands a global response. This will not be defined by numbers. It’s our people. It’s our students, our artists, our musicians, our athletes, our scientists coming together to lay the foundation for greater trust and eventually for greater leadership in the world. Our students right now are already laying the foundation for this transformation.

Zhang Xin is from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. And Zhang is committed to improving the antitrust enforcement in both of our countries so that we can grow our trade and investment relationship. That’s why he did his Fulbright research project at George Washington University on how competition and antitrust laws shape a market economy. Students like Zhang understand that China’s rise is not a threat to the United States, not a threat to anybody. China’s rise will do nothing to diminish our own power. In fact, it can grow and complement it as we partner on major initiatives on a global basis.

Together, if the United States and China act with a spirit of fairness, reciprocity, and shared responsibility for shared challenges, then we can build a very strong economic tie and a cultural understanding of each other that will benefit all of our citizens and bind us together. That’s how we can define this next century. I am convinced of it, and I’m convinced you’re convinced of it, which is why you’re here today. That is the promise of our partnership with the Chinese people. That’s the promise that President Obama wants us to live out. And it’s a partnership that has the potential to be even stronger when we understand that academic freedom and free press are not barriers to greater exchanges between our people; they are the drivers of a better understanding of those exchanges.

The story of U.S.-China relations really can be one of genuine cooperation, and frankly of spectacular accomplishment. And while we may disagree at times on one thing or another, I’m absolutely convinced that we can learn from the past and herald a brighter future together. If we build greater trust, if we reach for greater prosperity, if we lead together on the world stage, this consultation will be not the only one of its kind or the only partnership that our people share; it will simply be the first, and it will set an example for the possibilities of the future.

So I’m very proud to be here today with our delegation. We’re honored to take part in this. Most importantly, we are genuinely excited about this beautiful day and the possibilities that it holds for all of us. Thank you. (Applause.)