Xi Jinping invited 50,000 American Students to Visit China. So Who’s Paying?


You may remember that there was a summit between President Biden and President Xi Jinping last November in San Francisco. You can be sure that the two talked about people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. You may not recall, however, that while there, Xi announced that China was ready to invite 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years.

Since then, several groups of young Americans have already toured China, according to Yibao, including undergraduates from California State University, high-school students from Iowa, and primary-school students from Utah.

It is not clear how each of these group visits to China was funded. But 24 high school students and 4 educators from Muscatine High School in Muscatine, Iowa, where Xi Jinping had visited more than once, had their late January trip fully funded by the Chinese government, as its school district announced. As the first group of Xi Jinping’s new initiative, the Muscatine students went to Beijing and Shanghai, including sightseeing and visiting with local students. The young Iowans were so grateful that they expressed their love for China and their thanks to Grandpa Xi in Chinese. And there is more in store for Muscatine High, as a second group is traveling to China in April.

But the Iowan students were not the first to visit China for free at the invitation of Xi Jinping. One hundred students plus their teachers from Lincoln High School of Tacoma did it in 2016 after Xi had visited the school during his Washington state tour in 2015. According to China Daily, Tacoma students visited Fuzhou the sister city of Tacoma, giant pandas in Chengdu, the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and a local high school in Beijing. The Chinese government covered the group’s expenses in China, including airfare, as the China Daily reported.

Gratitude and goodwill flowed afterwards from Lincoln High students, school leaders, and a local nonprofit involved. They kept up their friendship with China’s leader over the years, including exchanging letters.

In November, while Xi Jinping was in San Francisco meeting with President Biden, students of Lincoln High made a painting for Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan and also prepared birthday cards and a song for her.

In late January this year, more than 100 Lincoln High teachers and students signed and sent a greeting card to Xi Jinping and his wife, wishing them the best for the Year of the Dragon. They were shocked and thrilled on receiving a card back from the first couple of China. Xi and his wife said in the card that they hoped the students would participate in the exchange programs, visit China more often, and contribute to the friendship between the two peoples.

And so they will — as 10 Lincoln High students are embarking on another trip to China on March 15. Karl Hoseth, principal of Lincoln High School, who had visited Beijing in 1991 as a football player, will accompany the students on this trip in March. He said they were honored to continue this partnership between Lincoln High and China for many years to come.

Exchanges between Americans and the Chinese are a good thing. But those exchanges have been lopsided for years, especially in terms of students in each other’s country. In summer 2023, for instance, there were about 300,000 Chinese students at schools and universities in the U.S. While in China, only 350 Americans were studying there, according to an NBC report.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, was quoted by NBC saying that young people from the U.S. and China needed to have a familiarity with each other, and that increasing the number of American students in China would be crucial for cultivating America’s next generation of China experts. Ambassador Burns also called U.S.-China relations the most important, most competitive, and most dangerous that the U.S. had in the world.

For such a task, shouldn’t the United States encourage, incentivize, and fund American students to visit and study China instead of letting the Chinese government take the initiative and fund young Americans to do so?

Visiting China with their expenses paid by China, young people from Tacoma or Muscatine would feel a debt of gratitude towards the Chinese government or Xi Jinping personally;  they would also only see and learn what the Chinese government wants them to. Their Chinese hosts would never mention anything about the Uyghurs persecuted, or Tiananmen Square students killed, or Liu Xiaobo the dissident Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died in prison.

There is no free lunch, as they say, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. Such cautions are especially true when it comes to matters between the U.S. and China.

Wendy Liu
Wendy Liu
Wendy Liu of Mercer Island has been a consultant, translator, writer and interpreter. Her last book was tilted "My first impression of China--Washingtonians' First Trips to the Middle Kingdom."


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