As China integrates further into the international community, interactions between citizens of China, the United States, and other countries will continue to grow. Academic and cultural exchanges can facilitate greater understanding and mutual trust between China and the international community.

Carnegie–Tsinghua’s Paul Haenle and Shi Zhiqin moderated a discussion with James, Elaine, and Angela Chao about the importance of education and people-to-people exchanges for U.S.-China relations. The Chao family explained how their longstanding commitment to education and constructive cross-cultural interactions helps to bring the two countries closer together.

Discussion Highlights 

  • The Importance of Sino-U.S. Relations: The Chao family agreed that interactions between China and the United States will profoundly shape the world’s future. Elaine Chao described the great strides she has seen China take during her annual visits over the past three decades, an era marked by rapid economic development and modernization. Angela Chao characterized Sino-U.S. ties as the “most important bilateral relationship in the world.” She pointed out that many people around the world respect China, but that many people also seem to fear China, which indicates that efforts to promote stable, constructive bilateral engagement are as vital as ever. 
  • A Commitment to Family, Philanthropy, and Education: The Chao family discussed their longstanding devotion to philanthropy and education. James Chao credited the support of his late wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, for his success. Elaine Chao described the family’s philanthropic work to expand early childhood education in China, establishing kindergartens in both Shanghai and Lai’an County in Anhui Province. They have also provided scholarships to thousands of Chinese students over the past few decades. The Chao family endorsed education as a key avenue to self-improvement.
  • Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders: The Chao family observed that students today, in China and abroad, enjoy greater educational opportunities than past generations, equipping them to be indispensable leaders in a complex world. They asserted that investing in young people and training them to lead is an important way to enhance cooperation between China, the United States, and the international community and to address common global challenges. James Chao encouraged students to always strive for excellence and to “make the world a better place.” Elaine Chao advised students to be ambitious and patient as they seek to make a difference in their communities.
  • Facilitating People-to-People Exchanges: People-to-people exchanges between citizens of China and the United States are a promising way to strengthen the bilateral relationship, the Chao family said. These interactions include academics, businesspeople, and former officials, but students and young professionals can also play an important role. Angela Chao urged students to take the initiative to expand cultural engagement between the two countries, saying, “building bridges starts with us, one person at a time.” The Chao family stated that such ties can serve to build trust and goodwill between China, the United States, and other countries.
  • Celebrating Cultural Traditions: The Chao family discussed the enduring significance of their cultural upbringing, which includes important elements from both Chinese and U.S. traditions. James Chao underscored how much he learned from his own upbringing in China and how he encouraged his daughters to embrace U.S. cultural traditions while also remembering their cultural roots in Chinese traditions. He encouraged Chinese young people who travel to the United States to respect the cultural practices of both countries and to remain mindful about how much they can teach Westerners about China and its rich cultural heritage. Elaine Chao echoed this sentiment, saying, “learn as much as you can from others, while always being ready to explain Chinese thinking to others.” Angela Chao emphasized that citizens in the twenty-first century must be global and local at the same time, combining an appreciation for and acceptance of unfamiliar traditions with a passion for sharing the insights of one’s own cultural upbringing. 

James Chao

James Chao is the founder and chairman of the Foremost Group, a New York-based global shipping firm. He is also a committed philanthropist, who has funded educational and cultural initiatives in both China and the United States to bring the two countries closer together.  

Elaine Chao

Elaine Chao is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, conducting research on employment and the competitiveness of U.S. industries. She served as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009 under former president George W. Bush. 

Angela Chao 

Angela Chao is the deputy chairman of Foremost Group. She is also the president of the Foremost Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by her father. She also engages in public speaking in North America, Europe, and Asia, discussing topics such as international economics, philanthropy, and international trade. 

Paul Haenle 

Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Shi Zhiqin  

Shi Zhiqin is a resident scholar at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, where he runs the China-EU Relations program. Shi is also professor and chancellor of the School of Social Sciences and dean of the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University.