Ever since July 5th of 2016 where my first speech on One-Belt-One-Road ( OBOR ) was delivered in Singapore, I subsequently gave many similar speeches in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Macau, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shanghai and Taichung. I also delivered three SKYPE lectures to Guwahatiand New Delhi in India and Melbourne in Australia.
I became interested in OBOR not because anyone had ordered me to do so. I was simply fascinated, in fact mesmerized, by the fact that if it were successful, it could be transformative for China. In my mind, it would be a millennium mindset transformation for the Chinese to reach out to the world, as what President Xi Jinping referred to as “cultural communication.” In fact, I could go further to say that I also felt deeply that it could also transform humanity for the better. As an academic, this was way too much lure for me not to spend time thinking about the issue.
Between January 31 and February 6 of 2017, I ventured out of Asia and delivered four lectures on the topic OBOR in four outstanding North American universities:
(a) Georgia Tech ( GaTech ),
(b) Georgia State University ( GSU ),
(c) The University of Toronto ( UT ) and
(d) University of Stonybrook.
The first three are part of a University of Macau delegation activities. The last is a standalone.
At GaTech, it was a Panel Discussion on Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy, organized the famous Sam Nunn School of International Affairs; at GSU, a speech organized by its Office of International Initiatives, at UT, a forum where I was the keynote speaker, organized by the famous Munk School of Global Affairs’ Asian Institute and at Stonybrook, the Office of Global Affairs and Confucius Institute organized the event.
I was pleased that at GaTech, one of my fellow panelists is my colleague from the University of Macau, Professor Hao Yufan. Professor Hao, an expert in US-China relations, is the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. It was probably no surprise that with his background, it generated some rather interesting and robust discussion regarding the direction of USChina relations in the immediate future.
As this was my first effort to speak about OBOR in North American continent, before my speeches, I had no inkling whether people had any idea or interest in the subject. Until fairly recently, I am quite sure that OBOR received little or no attention. But in the last few months, something significantly changed which made North Americans eager to learn anything, and maybe especially, about China.
Although my four lectures was scheduled at this moment because of some unrelated reasons, it was surely by serendipity, my speeches came at the time where there was, and still is, an “in-your-face” leadership change in the United States. This was especially so when the new leadership inserted a great deal of “uncertainties” on global affairs, and the higher education communities in the United States were given a rude awakening. In this awakening, China as a fast rising economy of global importance was obviously looming very much as a “target” of the administration in its design of a new world order. Although OBOR which was introduced as early as September and October of 2013, it received little or no significant attention in North America until now, where it suddenly seemed to penetrate, however superficially, into the North Americans psyche. This penetration made people curious. Maybe it was such curiosities that made people wanted to engage in extensive Q&A with me after the lectures.
It is truly a great irony, and perhaps sad to say, that I should be thankful to the new US administration for rendering my speeches successful.
At all four sites, the attendances were outstanding. With that as preamble, I was especially amazed that at Stonybrook, the attendance of my lecture was overwhelming. In Stonybrook, prior to my speech, I was repeatedly expectation managed by the organizers that I may have low attendance since my lecture was scheduled on a Friday afternoon, the day of the week where there were no lectures on campus. The fact that there was wall-to-wall attendance and essentially no one departed until the lecture and Q&A ended surprised the organizers as well.
Unlike Stonybrook which was far from Metropolitan New York City, and therefore it was not surprising that the attendance was primarily from the university communities, the large attendance of UT which sits in the heart of Metropolitan Toronto had a significant number of non-university communities attending the lecture. This tells me also that the importance of the issue of OBOR had penetrated beyond the university communities.
It is interesting to note that although the new US administration seems to want to close its national door, what I found in discussing with many people in all four institutions how inquisitive and open-minded they were. This was the United States’ higher education paradigm that I was familiar with about a decade ago before I moved to Asia. Such a paradigm was what made United States such a lovely country. I am pleased that even with the onslaught of political transformation, this seems to still be the case. We can only hope that such openness could continue.
Of course, although it is unfortunate that I have not mastered the omnipresence skill, I am very happy to let everyone know that at Stonybrook, the entire lecture was taped. Therefore soon, I hope, my lecture can be seen on the internet.
I am very happy to learn that as soon as the news of my speaking about OBOR became known in North America, I subsequently received many invitations to speak. Unfortunately due to time constraint, I could accept only a small number in Dallas Texas and Boston Massachusetts. I hope there will be future opportunities to do so.