Policy leaders stressed Thursday that the best way to strengthen relations between the U.S. and China is one person at a time, starting with a concentrated effort to increase the number of American students studying in China.
At a conference sponsored by the 100,000 Strong Foundation, the financial executive Stephen Schwarzman described the Schwarzman Scholars program, a $300 million scholarship program that will support 200 students annually who enroll in a yearlong master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The first class of scholars  will begin in 2016. Of the 200 students, 45 percent will come from the U.S., 20 percent will come from China and 35 percent will come from other countries, Schwarzman said Thursday.
Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, said the scholarship program aims to give students experience beyond the classroom. The scholars will meet with Chinese leaders, travel widely throughout China and be mentored by leaders in their field of study. Learning a language “gives you a window into the culture,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said, but cultural literacy is equally important to foster diplomacy. And the “seeds of friendship,” trust and mutual respect are most likely to come from young students, said Vice Premier of China Liu Yangdong.
The conference was sponsored by the 100,000 Strong Foundation , which is housed at American University. The foundation grew out of a 2010 U.S. State Department initiative to increase the number of Americans studying in China to 100,000. In the 2011-12 academic year, 14,887 American students studied in China, a 2 percent increase from the 2010-11 academic year, according to recent data . China was the fifth most popular destination for American students. The number of Chinese students studying in America increased from 194,029 in 2011-12 to 235,597 in 2012-13.