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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
At the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in the Kennedy School, China took center stage.
Former Kennedy School Dean Graham T. Allison Jr. ’62 led a hybrid panel discussion Wednesday about China’s emergence as an economic superpower with former University President Lawrence H. Summers, Tufts professor Kelly Sims Gallagher, and London School of Economics professor Keyu Jin ’04.
Allison started the discussion by talking about China’s success in creating a highly efficient transportation system.
“China has shown that it can build transportation infrastructure in a way that’s shameful for Americans,” Allison said, showing a photo of a high-speed train he said can quickly transport riders from downtown Beijing to the Olympic Stadium.
“Compare that with the T ride home tonight,” Allison added. “If you look at the high-speed rail, we have none, and they have 23,000 miles of high-speed rail.”
Gallagher said “China is winning the race” when it comes to creating jobs in the green energy sector.
“In 2020, China generated 4.7 million new renewable energy jobs,” Gallagher said. “Whereas, the United States generated 838,000, only seven percent of the global total. In fact, the US comes in fourth in creation of new renewable energy jobs, behind China, Brazil, and India, in that order.”
Jin praised the Chinese government's response to online criticisms from its citizens.
“The fact that you can criticize the government openly on public websites is all an indication that there is just much more responsiveness on the ground from the Chinese government toward its citizens than we imagine elsewhere,” Jin said.
The panelists later debated whether the international prestige of a degree from an American university will help the United States counter China’s economic rise.
“I think we are sitting at one of America’s great assets,” Summers said. “It doesn’t mean that others couldn’t succeed in fostering the kind of academic, and university, and higher education culture that we have in the United States, but I think we need to recognize it for the staggering advantage that it is.”
“Young people, like Professor Jin when she was much younger, come to study in American schools and in American colleges because they and their families appreciate how extraordinary an opportunity it is,” he added.
“Chinese students who have Harvard degrees, Princeton degrees, or have worked at Google and Facebook, are returning to China,” Jin countered. “About 80 percent of them have returned years after their graduation. This was not the case at all 20 years ago.”
“The American dream is now found in China,” she added.
In a pre-panel interview, Allison explained China’s economic power will dominate U.S. political discussions for years to come.
“The overriding international challenge for the United States in 2017, and in 2027, and in 2037, and as far beyond that as anybody can see, will be the rise of China and its impact on the United States, and the international order of which the U.S. has been the principal architect and guardian,” he said.
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.
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