Education Secretary DeVos to speak at U.S.-China dialogue in SMPA

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the vice premier of China will headline a star-studded lineup of guests at a U.S.-China cultural dialogue in Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday, according to two of the event’s organizers.

The event, which will begin at 11 a.m., was planned by both the State Department and the Chinese Embassy and will feature appearances by DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong. The event will feature speeches from dignitaries of both countries followed by a discussion between four young Americans and four young Chinese students on how they perceive each other’s countries, according to an event description document obtained by The Hatchet.

Both the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, part of the Elliott School of International Affairs, and the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, also affiliated with the Elliott School and based in the School of Media and Public Affairs, will co-host the event, according to the leaders of both centers.

“I’m a big proponent of education and cultural exchanges,” Janet Steele, an associate professor of media and public affairs and the director of the Public Diplomacy Institute, said. “This is public diplomacy. Education and cultural dialogues are public diplomacy.”

The State Department confirmed the event in a release Tuesday night. The discussion is one of four planned between the U.S. and China designed to “increase people-to-people ties and mutual understanding between the two nations,” according to the release.

The discussion will focus on topics like education, social development, science, health, media and the environment. Bruce Dickson, a professor of political science and international affairs, will moderate the event along with Chinese newscaster Yang Lan, according to the event description.

Tickets are not publicly available to the GW community. The Chinese Embassy and the State Department were each given 100 tickets for the discussion and GW was allocated 50 spots for students and faculty, which were given out through the Sigur Center and the Public Diplomacy Institute, Steele said.

The discussion will be the “signature event” of Yandong’s visit to the U.S., according to the event description. Former NBA star Yao Ming and Chinese pianist Lang Lang will both make appearances.

Steele said the public diplomacy institute got involved with the event over the summer after the State Department approached a former fellow in the institute and a senior U.S. diplomat about co-sponsoring the discussion. After learning about the scale and importance of the event, Steele said she asked the Sigur Center to co-sponsor as well.

“Clearly the State Department wants to have this continuing dialogue with China,” Benjamin Hopkins, an associate professor of history and international affairs and the director of the Sigur Center, said. “I think it’s of value to include GW as an academic and intellectual space.”

Steele and Hopkins both said that they initially feared a diplomatic event increasing tension between the U.S. and China would cancel the event, but Hopkins said it now appears very likely to go forward.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the State Department and the Chinese Embassy approached both institutes about finding a venue for the event. She said Chinese officials asked both institutes to identify GW students to attend and is “reaching out to other area universities to invite students.”

Csellar said University President Thomas LeBlanc has been invited to make opening remarks.

She said that anytime there is a “high-level official visiting campus,” the University Police Department conducts a security assessment and “makes security arrangements in coordination with the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

Demonstrators have protested DeVos at many events she has attended during her tenure, particularly after she announced a plan to change federal Title IX policies, outraging student activists.

Hopkins said one of the University’s values is “bringing in potentially conflicting views” to campus.

“If that led to dissent by either students or faculty, I don’t think it’s the University’s place to be anything but supportive,” he said.

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