Historic opportunity for Chinese students

Chinese President Xi Jinping has put forth an ambitious development plan for northern China. China’s State Council announced in April that it would establish a third special economic zone (SEZ), the Xiong’an New Area, in the northern province of Hebei. The Xiong’an New Area, according to China’s official news agency, Xinhua, will “operate as a new growth pole for the country’s economy. The area will be of the same national significance as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, established in the 1980s, and the Shanghai Pudong New Area, created in the 1990s.”

A small market town located immediately north of Hong Kong in the 1970s, Shenzhen was designated China’s first SEZ in 1980 and has since become one of the fastest-growing cities in the world in the 1990s and the 2000s. Shenzhen today is one of the most important financial and manufacturing centers in southern China, the home of more than 11 million residents as well as the headquarters of numerous multinational companies. Ranked the 19th most competitive financial center in the world, Shenzhen’s GDP totaled $303.37 billion in 2016, higher than that of Portugal and Vietnam. The city’s PPP per-capita GDP was $49,185 in 2016, on par with Australia and Germany.

Then in 1993, Chinese central government set up China’s second SEZ, the Pudong New Area. Mainly farmland on the east bank of the Pu River, Pudong in the 1980s referred to the less-developed land across from Shanghai’s old city. The Pudong New Area today is the home of five million residents, with a total GDP of $126.9 billion. Pudong is also home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shanghai World Financial Center, Port of Shanghai, Shanghai Expo, Pudong International Airport, and Shanghai Disney Resort.

Now President Xi Jinping has decided to create his own SEZ special in northern China to rival the two SEZs founded in southern China by his predecessors, late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and ex-president Jiang Zemin. President Xi told former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson personally, the plan was his “own personal initiative.”

The creation of the Xiong’an New Area is described in Chinese state media as part of President Xi’s “Millennium Strategy” — its main function is to serve as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle. Additionally, many of the “non-essential” functions of Beijing are expected to migrate to the Xiong’an New Area — China’s third SEZ is expected to house many non-government facilities, including markets, universities, research institutions and hospitals, that will be relocated from Beijing to Xiong’an, a new “green, livable and modern urban area.”

“The money spent on infrastructure and relocation services for Xiong’an may top $290 billion in fifteen years,” Morgan Stanley predicts, “and the new city is expected to receive every penny: President Xi Jinping himself has publicly backed the idea as a way to usher in innovative companies and universities into to the area some 100 miles from Beijing. The government calls it an area of national significance, a similar designation to previous build-outs of the tech hub Shenzhen and the oft-photographed, neon-skyscraper-dominated Pudong area of Shanghai. After more than a decade, Xiong’an will grow to 2,000 square kilometers, the size of Shenzhen City.”

President Xi’s “Millennium Strategy” might have presented Marietta College with an exciting and historic opportunity.

Although a small college, Marietta College has long established in northern China. In fact, Marietta College was one of the very first American liberal arts colleges to enroll Chinese undergraduates from Beijing and nearby provinces. In 1995, Marietta College welcomed its first group of 13 Chinese students from Beijing and Inner Mongolia. From this modest, but not insignificant beginning, 20-some years later, Marietta College has educated more than 600 Chinese students and has expanded its offerings to include faculty and administrator exchanges, specially designed training programs for Chinese business executives, and international conferences on China.

The value of Marietta College’s China connection is not the simple “internationalization” idea common to international programs. Instead, it brings to Marietta College Chinese students whose education in American liberal arts tradition is likely to influence their behavior as China’s future leaders. A majority of Marietta Chinese graduates have returned to China permanently, and many now have successful careers in different areas of government, the private sector, academia, and the media in Beijing and neighboring Chinese provinces.

These well-rounded, loyal Marietta alumni are appreciative of their Marietta College experience and are now standing ready to open the door to new possibilities for their alma mater in northern China, including in the Xiong’an New Area.

Xiaoxiong Yi is director of Marietta College’s China Program.