Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Tacoma

In his first state visit to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping stopped in Tacoma on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to exchange gifts and speak with students at Lincoln High School. This is President Xi’s second visit to the city of Tacoma; his first was in 1993, when he was a local government official in Fuzhou, Tacoma’s sister city.

President Xi’s decision to visit Washington State before traveling to Washington D.C. and New York to meet with President Obama and the United Nations, respectively, highlights the significance of Washington State’s historical, cultural and economic relationship with China. China is Washington’s top trading partner; according to the Washington State China Relations Council, Washington exported $20.7 billion worth of goods to China in 2014, more than any other state in the nation.

By visiting Washington State first and summoning top American business leaders to meet with him, President Xi framed Chinese policy as maintaining its economics-first approach, despite ongoing disputes with the United States over cybersecurity, expansionism in the South China Sea and human rights violations. As the mainland state with the closest ports to China, Washington will continue to play a vital role in trans-Pacific trade. The growing importance of China, alongside other Asian nations, has led some scholars as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to dub the 21st Century the “Pacific Century.”

It is virtually certain that China will continue to play a vital role in the economy of Washington, and University of Puget Sound students are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this relationship both during their time at the University and after they graduate. There are numerous opportunities for students to engage with China.

As an academic institution located on the Pacific, the University has many courses, study abroad programs, and faculty members specializing in both Asia in general and China in particular.

According to Politics and Government Professor Karl Fields, there are dozens of Puget Sound graduates who are currently living or have spent substantive amounts of time in China.

“We have one of the strongest Mandarin language programs in the state, with three full-time professors… however, I think there’s a misperception that if you graduate from college with fluency in Mandarin then you can write your ticket to a job in China,” Professor Fields said. “That said, I think that graduates from Puget Sound in any major will be well poised to take advantage of opportunities in China given our focus on cultural awareness, deep analysis and critical thinking.”

As economic interlinkages thicken across the Pacific, the toolbox of a liberal arts education will become increasingly important in order to facilitate cross-cultural cooperation. The Chinese leadership recognizes this, as President Xi invited one hundred students from Lincoln High School to visit China in the coming year. Puget Sound offers many possibilities to both learn about and travel to China and the Pacific Rim, but it is up to students to take advantage and capitalize on these opportunities.