Today’s news of President Trump’s ‘termination’ of the Fulbright program for China and Hong Kong brought a memory of a different approach to difficult bilateral relations. (See his Executive Order which among other items commits to “take steps to terminate the Fulbright exchange program with regard to China and Hong Kong with respect to future exchanges for participants traveling both from and to China or Hong Kong.”)
I arrived in Beijing as CAO about a month after the Tiananmen Square violence in 1989. Within a few weeks of my arrival, I received the news from the State Education Commission that China would suspend the Fulbright program.
A few weeks later, President George H. W. Bush announced Tiananmen-related sanctions on China. The sanctions would be lifted, he said, when China met three conditions: releasing the political prisoners, restoring the Fulbright program, and restoring Peace Corps (at the time of the violence in the square, the aspiring first volunteers were studying Chinese at American University).
Quite a contrast from today’s news: at a time of intense bilateral strain, the President of the United States insisted on more people-to-people connections through academic exchange.
The program was restored the following year. Let’s hope for another short hiatus.
Michael McCarry served for 21 years as Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, an association of U.S. exchange sponsors. Earlier, as a USIA Foreign Service Officer, he served overseas in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Beijing, and in Washington as staff director of the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs. He currently serves as Senior Advisor to Cenet, a Missouri-based exchange sponsor, and as a trustee of the EF Foundation.