In late November, Meridian International Center and the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center warmly received a cohort of ten Chinese “netizens” (a portmanteau of “internet” and “citizens”) who displayed a deft awareness for the power of the blogosphere.
The netizens expressed their appreciation and satisfaction with what they all agreed was a very well designed and relevant program. They were particularly pleased that they were able to participate in such a wide range of activities; saying that the visit did much to increase their understanding of the United States and both the differences and similarities between the two countries.
The group was a star-studded lineup of notable economic and financial commentators, religious leaders, think-tank founders, and even the “King of the Chinese Fairytale.” Our visitors garnered more than one-hundred million unique page views to their group blog. In addition, their entries stimulated hundreds of thousands of comments.
China’s unprecedented rise to world superpower status has undoubtedly put a renewed emphasis on Chinese-American relations. As evidenced by President Obama’s ongoing “Pivot to Asia” agenda and his recent state visit to China, the relations between the two countries continues to move towards one of partnership and trust. Unfortunately, a free press operating with full transparency has been lost in this astronomic sociopolitical rise. This disturbing trend has been combatted by user-generated microblogging websites that serve as a more liberal medium for all things news-related.
The scheduled tour voyaged through the Washington, DC, St. Louis and New York City metropolitan areas. Thematically speaking, the purpose of the visit was multi-faceted. Topics covered included Chinese-American relations in lieu of President Obama’s recent visit, urban development vis-a-vis preserving historical landmarks, the state of journalism moving forward in the twenty-first century, and the prevalence of GMO’s in the American diet. More specifically, participants were eager to learn about similar issues pertinent to both Chinese and American everyday life.
In accordance with these larger themes, the journalists met with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in Richmond to discuss the benefits of living, working and raising a family in the state, including: its outstanding school systems, favorable tax codes and favorable geopolitical location. In addition, a visit with David Callaway, Editor-in-Chief of the USA Today, was certainly a highlight of the Washington, DC portion of the trip. Mr. Callaway largely discussed that though USA Today has a loyal print customer base, sales are gradually declining as digital and mobile platforms become increasingly omnipresent.
Further along, the group travelled to St. Louis and New York City for meetings with several different groups. The former of the cities focused on urban development and the issue of GMO’s. In St. Louis, visitors learned of the city’s drastic decline in population over the past several decades and how the City of St. Louis Urban Planning and Design Agency is planning on reversing this trend. A subtheme of the trip was the issue of historical preservation against the need for urban development. Despite our relatively brief history, Americans are very cognizant of preserving our historical landmarks against private interest. Ironically, China’s history is sizably longer than ours; however, they have no trouble making way for a new high-speed railway or similar government project. This juxtaposition offered many talking points and inquiries. One netizen drew many comparisons with the American West and western China. He said most Chinese are cognizant of the uneven development between the urban locales and the Western hinterland, however there are several challenges enacting policy regarding the matter.
The New York City portion offered many opportunities to learn about the state of American news media. A highlight included a stop at the New York City Rescue Mission. This charitable trip made an impressionable impact on the group. Many expressed that they wish China had a similar emphasis on helping those less fortunate. Our netizens were also fortunate enough to tour the Bloomberg LP headquarters and meet representatives from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Of note, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Rebecca Blumenstein thoroughly impressed our guests with her extensive knowledge on Chinese domestic and foreign policy.
A participant with an extensive background in urban development and infrastructure was particularly complimentary of the public transportation. He also praised the Interstate highway system, not only because of its development, but because of its accessibility to every American citizen.
The tour absolutely accomplished many of its objectives. Demographically speaking, our journalists experienced a wide collection of American customs, traditions and culture. The tour covered a broad range of themes despite the relatively brief amount of time to survey such broad material. The participants went back to their locales with an increased sense of how we approach the issues of our time. Of note, the participants expressed a collective opinion that international exchanges between China and the United States can only help economic relations moving forward in the twenty-first century. Not surprisingly, and despite being a world away, it has become evident the more grandiose problems facing China are not too unlike ours.