Ex­change pro­gram start was an accident BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG JUN and LIAN ZI in San Fran­cisco

“We started it from zero,” said Thomas Fin­gar, one of the founders in­volved from the be­gin­ning in es­tab­lish­ing aca­demic ex­change pro­grams between China and the US.

“It was an accident for me to be part of it. I think it was prob­a­bly based on my Chi­nese lan­guage ca­pa­bil­ity and study in­ter­ests,” Fin­gar, an in­au­gu­ral Ok­sen­berg-Rohlen dis­tin­guished fel­low at Stan­ford Univer­sity, ex­plained.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing his PhD pro­gram on com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Stan­ford, he was hired by the univer­sity to help es­tab­lish the US-China ex­change pro­gram in 1975.

The first ex­change was an un­of­fi­cial and univer­sity-based pro­gram between Stan­ford and the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ence in 1978.

“We picked six Chi­nese schol­ars who were fo­cused on com­puter sci­ence, elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing, and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing to come to Stan­ford,” he told China Daily. “They were the best of the best.”

“We cus­tom­ized the classes and lab ses­sions for the pro­gram and matched them one on one with Stan­ford pro­fes­sors based on their aca­demic in­ter­ests,” he said.

It was 1978, just af­ter for­mer leader Deng Xiaop­ing had un­veiled his re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy and Fin­gar was in­volved in the of­fi­cial talks with Chi­nese of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton and signed an agree­ment on ex­pand­ing ex­change pro­grams from the un­of­fi­cial to the of­fi­cial level and in­volv­ing more Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties.

The first Chi­nese of­fi­cial ex­change del­e­ga­tion came to the US in 1979 through Fin­gar’s ef­forts as co-direc­tor. “We wanted to train Chi­nese tal­ents in US uni­ver­si­ties and let them have ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy and cap­i­tal,” said Fin­gar.

Be­sides as­sist­ing the aca­demic ex­change pro­gram between the two coun­tries, Fin­gar also made ar­range­ments for the ping-pong del­e­ga­tion’s visit in San Fran­cisco in 1972, which was the first of­fi­cial Chi­nese sports del­e­ga­tion to come to the US since 1949.

Fin­gar’s in­ter­est in China started as an un­der­grad­u­ate at Cor­nell Univer­sity. One of his pro­fes­sors, John Lewis, a well-known ex­pert on Chi­nese pol­i­tics and US-China re­la­tions, trig­gered his cu­rios­ity about China.

“He was ob­vi­ously in­ter­ested in China and its in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. I de­cided I’d like to know more about a sub­ject that made some­body so ex­cited, so I took an an­thro­pol­ogy class about south China. But my re­ac­tion was that this is too weird.”

But he kept ask­ing him­self ques­tions about China. Why do they act in that way? Why do we do it dif­fer­ently? “I was lucky that I asked th­ese ques­tions, and con­tin­ued to learn about China,” said Fin­gar.

He ini­tially re­garded China as a mir­ror. “I looked at China in or­der to iden­tify things that I’d like to ask about our own coun­try,” he said.

At the sug­ges­tion of Prof Lewis, he went to Columbia Univer­sity to learn Chi­nese and fur­ther prac­ticed it in Tai­wan, which of­fered him a chance to get more in touch with China.

“When the ping-pong del­e­ga­tion came from China, my Chi­nese had al­ready been well shaped. So, I was se­lected to as­sist the del­e­ga­tion’s visit,” he said.

In the 1980s, since San Fran­cisco was a get­away for for­eign del­e­ga­tions to gain ac­cess to the US, he re­ceived nu­mer­ous del­e­ga­tions at Stan­ford Univer­sity. “‘If you have any prob­lem, please call Pro­fes­sor Fin­gar,’” he said. “They always gave my con­tact in­for­ma­tion to new del­e­ga­tions.”

“It was out of con­trol,” he said with a laugh.

Fin­gar calls him­self a for­ever mov­ing-for­ward guy. “The things I am do­ing about China are now and to­mor­row, not about his­tory.” He is cur­rently con­duct­ing sev­eral re­search pro­jects about China spon­sored by Stan­ford and is a mem­ber of the China-US Joint Work­ing Group.

From Fin­gar’s per­spec­tive, the re­la­tion­ship between China and the US to­day is far more co­op­er­a­tive than com­pet­i­tive.

He dis­agrees with the state­ment that the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship is be­com­ing less sta­ble and more dan­ger­ous. He said, “We have more dis­agree­ments between two coun­tries than be­fore, be­cause we touch each other in more places and it will not threaten the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion.” The dis­agree­ments were not a sign of prob­lems, but a sign of col­lab­o­ra­tion and in­ter­de­pen­dence un­der the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem, he said.

He vividly de­scribed the re­la­tion­ship between two coun­tries as a three-legged race where two team­mates tie one of their legs to­gether. He ex­plained, “We tie our­selves to China in the three­legged

THOMAS FIN­GAR In­au­gu­ral Ok­sen­berg-Rohlen dis­tin­guished fel­low in the Free­man Spogli In­sti­tu­tional Stud­ies at Stan­ford Univer­sity Cor­nell Univer­sity, BA (1968) Stan­ford Univer­sity, MA, PhD in po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence (1977) In­au­gu­ral Ok­sen­bergRohlen dis­tin­guished fel­low in the Free­man Spogli In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at Stan­ford Univer­sity (2014) race. If one goes over, we both go over.”

Fin­gar is con­cerned about some of the cur­rent chal­lenges in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. “We fa­vor a strong China, but we are always mis­trusted by the Chi­nese,” he said.

“I am sure that the two high­est lead­ers — Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi and US Pres­i­dent Obama — un­der­stand the im­por­tance of co­op­er­a­tion pretty well and know how to work it out. But nei­ther do the se­nior level politi­cians in both sys­tems con­vey the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion. Some of the Chi­nese of­fi­cials re­gard what we pro­vide as traps and candy bul­lets, but please see what we did do: we in­volved China in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem.”

He highly praised the meet­ing between Pres­i­dent Xi and Pres­i­dent Obama and sug­gested they com­mu­ni­cate more reg­u­larly and use more trans­parency in solv­ing the prob­lem of mu­tualmistrust between the two coun­tries.

• Served as the chair­man of the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Coun­cil and first deputy direc­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence for anal­y­sis (2005-2008) Direc­tor of the Of­fice of Anal­y­sis for East Asia and the Pacific (1989–1994) Chief of the China Di­vi­sion (1986–1989) Held a num­ber of po­si­tions at Stan­ford Univer­sity, in­clud­ing se­nior re­search as­so­ciate in the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and Arms Con­trol (19751986)

From his per­spec­tive, two gi­ant coun­tries have obli­ga­tions to get to­gether to tackle the global chal­lenges that in­fect all of us, in­clud­ing global cli­mate change, pro­lif­er­a­tion of nu­clear weapons, short­age of fresh wa­ter, food safety and en­ergy se­cu­rity.

“None of th­ese can be solved if China and the US can’t reach a ba­sic agree­ment, and other coun­tries will not com­mit their re­sources to solve them if China or the US says that they won’t play,” said Fin­gar, adding that the US needs China to get a good out­come in ne­go­ti­a­tions for global chal­lenges.

He is also wor­ried about the in­tense re­la­tions between China and its neigh­bors. He de­scribed East Asia as one of the most dy­namic but least struc­tured re­gions, adding that the “mar­ket is great for eco­nom­ics, but it is a ter­ri­ble place for se­cu­rity with all the po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences”. Con­tact the writ­ers at junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com or zil­ian@chi­nadai­lyusa.com.


Thomas Fin­gar, the in­au­gu­ral Ok­sen­berg-Rohlen Dis­tin­guished Fel­low in the Free­man Spogli In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at the Stan­ford Univer­sity, over­sees the launch­ing of the first aca­demic ex­changes pro­gram with China at the univeristy level in 1978.

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