Office of the President

June 19, 2006

Digital communication has transformed our world and how we live in it

Office of the President

Friday, June 16

Today began and ended with two reminders of just how tightly connected our planet is becoming. First thing this morning, I discussed an issue on state policy with WSU President Lane Rawlins. Then as I rode back to the hotel from a late dinner this evening, I received comments on my first blog post during the trip from one of our UW students.

Nothing was unusual about the communications –  except where and when they took place: President Rawlins is roaming in South Africa, the student is studying in Munich and I am traveling around Beijing. Yet we communicated as easily as if we were in a meeting room together in Seattle.  What is most remarkable to me is that none of us gave this a second thought (at least I didn’t, until I started writing tonight).Â

The ease of travel and digital communication have made such interactions commonplace. And in turn, they have transformed our world and how we live in it. These transglobal connections were reinforced throughout my meetings today.

We have much to share with one other

With leaders of Peking and Tsinghua universities, as well as Education Ministry officials, I had engaging discussions about current and future collaborations between our faculties and students.

I was particularly interested to find that our hopes and concerns for our universities, our communities and our people are very similar.  The media tends to portray modern China as completely consumed with economic growth and commercialization.

To be sure, there is a remarkable amount of business development under way, but such matters were discussed little in our meetings. Instead, we talked about familiar topics:  providing affordable, accessible education for all our people; the thrill of pursuing scholarly discovery; the growing gap between rich and poor; high quality health care; sustainable urban development; addressing environmental degradation; preparing our students for global engagement.

There are certainly many differences between our universities and cultures, so we need to find distinctive solutions to our problems. But the commonalities are equally apparent, and we have much to share with one other.

It is for the U.S. and China to collaborate and engage with each other

My conversation in the afternoon with U.S. Ambassador Randt was also enlightening and positive. I, unwittingly and with some biases I am sure, anticipated hearing of a cautious, even concerned approach to U.S.-China relations. Instead, I heard just the opposite.

The ambassador spoke of the centrality of a vibrant and successful China to world peace and pointed out how critical it is for the U.S. and China to collaborate and engage with each other. His pleasure at seeing applications of Chinese students to American universities return to their pre-9/11 levels was apparent.

2008 Olympics: Beijing’s global coming out party

As for the city of Beijing, it is hardly recognizable from the place I first visited in 1989. While the boom times of China have focused mostly on Shanghai, Beijing is now fully in play as well. It has become a wonderfully vibrant and modern city.

Returning to the hotel tonight, we drove by the site of the 2008 Olympic village. With a huge stadium, gyms and housing complexes rising like mushrooms, it is an exciting sight.

I told one of my hosts that I suspect that the Olympics are going to be Beijing’s debut, a global coming out party. He clearly liked the idea.