Supporters of a new scholarship for international students at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University say they are backing the program in the hope that it will produce future world leaders with a better understanding of China.
American billionaire investor Stephen Schwarzman announced the scholarship bearing his name at a ceremony Sunday in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. The Tsinghua program will fund one-year master's degrees for 200 students, almost half of them Americans, beginning in 2016. The scholars will take immersion classes in Chinese culture and language before enrolling in public policy and international relations courses.
International energy giant BP is donating $25 million of the $300 million cost of the scholarship program. As the lead sponsor, it said the program will enable future leaders to interact with prominent political, business and academic figures "with the vision of fostering greater understanding and more meaningful dialogue between China and the world."
Schwarzman is donating $100 million of his own wealth to the program, which is modeled on the century-old Rhodes scholarship that brings international students to Britain's Oxford University.
Speaking to U.S. television network CBS, he said the goal of his scholarship is to ease international tensions that may arise as China's economic growth outpaces those of Western powers in the coming years.
"The center of the world's economy is moving to Asia much more than it used to be in 1902, when it was more in the U.S. and Europe, when the Rhodes [scholarship] was established," said Schwarzman. "And I think that bringing students to China is an essential part of their education. China is no longer an elective course, it is really core curriculum."
Two-thirds of the funding will come from private donations, including those made by U.S. corporate giants Bank of America, Boeing, Caterpillar and JPMorgan Chase. All of the major corporate donors have significant investments in China.
Caterpillar said it has contributed $1 million to the scholarship. It said the program will highlight the "importance of [China's] economy to the rest of the world," and create links between Caterpillar and alumni "who could someday be an employee or a customer."
Schwarzman's private equity company Blackstone Group also invests in China's real estate market and is part-owned by Chinese state-run wealth fund China Investment Corp. Foreign investors in China traditionally have won favor with Chinese leaders by donating to schools, disaster relief and clean energy projects.
The scholarship's board includes prominent international figures such as former prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Kevin Rudd of Australia, former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, and former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
Kissinger said the scholarship can promote a peaceful world and a healthy global economy by fostering close relationships, understanding and communication.
"The Schwarzman Scholars Program is designed to broaden cultural understanding between China and the rest of the world," said Kissinger. "Only through first-hand experience can one really understand China - its culture, people, influences and motivations. Schwarzman scholars will inform a new class of leaders that are better prepared to face global challenges."
Kissinger helped to open U.S. relations with China in the early 1970s as a senior member of the Nixon administration.