During his visit to China, Gov. Jerry Brown promoted investment opportunities in industries such as clean energy, infrastructure and alternative-fuel vehicles that have the potential to remake California’s economy for decades.
Yet another initiative he highlighted might prove to be more far-reaching — an investment in the capacity of Californians to understand and directly connect with the people now building China’s economy.
While in Beijing, Brown announced a new program to send dozens of community college students to study in China starting in 2014. This initiative is made possible by a $250,000 gift from the Florence Fang Family Foundation, based in San Francisco, in support of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, launched recently by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to encourage young Americans to learn Mandarin and study in China.
The program will begin by helping students from the San Mateo County Community College District and will expand to other community colleges throughout the state. The program will seek to ensure that the next generation of Americans has the skills and knowledge to work with China, thereby growing businesses and our job base through greater exports and increased investment in the U.S.
This effort fills a great and growing need for our country — and especially California. China is not only the world’s second-largest economy, but it is also our second-largest trading partner and our third-largest export market.
China will continue to represent huge potential markets for American goods and services, including major California industries such as aerospace, telecommunications, information technology and entertainment.
With our Pacific orientation, the largest Chinese-American population in the nation and more investment deals from China than any other state, California is uniquely positioned to lead the U.S. in developing job-creating, business-building economic relationships with China.
In 2012, California exported roughly $14 billion in goods and services to China, in high-skill, high-wage and high-value-added sectors such as computers and electronic products. China is an especially important market for the Bay Area: During 2011 alone, the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area exported $2.1 billion in goods and services to China, an 86 percent increase since 2005.
However, for all the bright promise of U.S.-China economic relations, large gaps in understanding may yet threaten our two countries’ economic prospects. Most Americans, including Californians, know relatively little about China.
Ten times more Chinese students come to the United States for educational programs than Americans going to China, and 600 times more Chinese study the English language than Americans study Mandarin.
Moreover, we must also ensure that opportunities to learn about China are not restricted to those from privileged backgrounds. That is why it is important to not only grow but also to diversify the roster of Americans who are engaged with China. For example, while approximately 43 percent of American undergraduates are enrolled in community colleges, just 3 percent of them study abroad. By focusing on community college students, the California program will begin to bridge this gap.
Through collaborations with the 100,000 Strong Foundation, California will play an increasingly important role building bridges of knowledge and understanding between the U.S. and China. Ultimately, these collaborations will not only build lasting relationships between our great nations, but a prosperous economic future for the Golden State.
Florence Fang and Chris Cooper are board members of the 100,000 Strong Foundation.