Georgetown University received a $10 million donation from Hong Kong-based multinational conglomerate Spring Breeze Foundation to establish an Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues, announced Jan. 14.
The donation, which will be parceled out at $1 million per year over 10 years, funds research, teaching and outreach that span five global issues: peace and security, business and trade, economic and social development, global health and humanitarian crises and the environment.
The university has previously facilitated academic exchange with China through partnerships with Chinese institutions including the Central Party School in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai.
Vice President of Global Affairs Thomas Banchoff said Georgetown’s academic background in and relationship with China were factors that compelled the Spring Breeze Foundation to impart the gift.
“The Foundation reached out to Georgetown because we are a leading university in Washington, D.C., and have interdisciplinary expertise around global issues as well as strong connections in China,” Banchoff wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Core Initiative’s programs, including the research groups and student-student dialogue, will be designed to build and share knowledge on critical issues.”
The Charoen Pokphand Group, a leading Thai agro-industry and retail conglomerate, created The Spring Breeze Foundation in 2015. The CP Group supports academic institutions that research global development. The Group has previously donated to Harvard, Pennsylvania State, Duke and Tsinghua universities.
Shang Zhang (GRD ’11), an investment manager for CP Group’s subsidiary CT Bright Holdings, emphasized the initiative as a way to strengthen relationships between American and Asian institutions.
“As a global corporation with a large presence in [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and China, the CP group has a social responsibility and willingness to contribute to stronger East-West ties,” Zhang wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown University was selected for its academic excellence, independence and potential role in enhancing high-level dialogue and cultural exchange between the East and West.”
While still in its planning stage, the initiative has assembled a 14- person faculty committee, comprised of scholars from across the Georgetown schools, to formulate its programming. The committee is currently recruiting a director and staff for the initiative, including a senior China scholar and a junior hire focused more broadly on Asia.
Some of the plans are expected to take effect this semester, including the launch of a website scheduled for next month and the formation of research groups which will publish their findings, organize seminars and consult with policymakers. Others, including the linkage of Georgetown classes with courses taught in China through videoconferencing technology planned for the fall semester, are operating on a longer time frame.
Professor Michael Green, who previously served as a senior Asia expert on the National Security staff and now is on the initiative committee, said the committee aims to establish a dialogue unencumbered by the bureaucracy which often dogs official government channels, and fosters mutual trust that does not compromise U.S. or ally interests.
“We’re well-positioned to have a candid dialogue about comprehensive issues and we’re still designing what that dialogue will include,” Green said. “I should emphasize that this is not based on the idea that we should sweep our differences under the rug or that we should ignore the interests of our allies in Asia. … Georgetown has done that on some of our most sensitive issues in a very productive way that has built more trust, not less.”
Green said that a donation from the corporate foundation will not infringe upon the autonomy of the university’s research, as Georgetown will independently decide how the money will be spent. Rather, the programming will revolve around four foundational principles: independence, transparency, balance and academic excellence.
“In any gift, it’s incumbent upon the university, whether a university or a think tank, to ensure academic independence,” Green said. “The donors understood that … we would define the mission of this dialogue, but we would do so based on participation from the U.S. side that is unhindered and unobstructed in any way.”
Alex Rued (GRD ’16), editor-in-chief of The Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs and a graduate student in Georgetown’s Asian Studies program, said she hopes for a greater degree of people-to-people exchange as a result of the new initiative.
“I think it might also be helpful that there be some involvement with the Journal where we could publish some young scholars from China on issues and maybe have debates on issues that the U.S. or China are facing to get dialogue where we’re not seeing much improvement at the high levels of government,” Rued said.
Anna Scott Bell (GRD ’16), who also studies politics and security in China in the Asian Studies program, said she hopes the donation will provide insight into more morally ambiguous topics.
“I think so much about the conversation about the U.S.-China relationship is understandably focused on business and security, but in many ways I’d like to see that we broaden the conversation,” Bell said. “Some of the areas that are really difficult to get past in the U.S.-China relationships are more values-based or human rights-based, issues about the different types of governance and free speech and civil society that we need to focus research on rather than make them more peripheral or marginal.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that Bell was an employee of the Congressional Executive Commission on China and was speaking on behalf of CECC. She is an intern and is not professionally affiliated with CECC.
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