The 1-Million-Strong Initiative, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama last week, is "an investment in the future U.S.-China relationship," which will train a new generation of U.S. leaders with the language and cultural skills to prevent a conflict, a program director told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
At the joint news conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House last Friday, Obama said the U.S. will start a new initiative called "1 Million Strong" to encourage 1 million American students to learn Mandarin Chinese over the next five years.
This will raise the number of American students studying Chinese in elementary and high schools from current 200,000 to 1 million by 2020.
"It's an ambitious goal as you mentioned, a five fold increase and we are working to, very fast, implement it," said Carola McGiffert, president of the 100,000-Strong Foundation that will also lead the new initiative.
"The goal is to develop over time a new generation of leaders who have the language, and cultural skills to manage what is the most important bilateral relationship that we have for the foreseeable future," McGiffert said.
She said the U.S.-China relationship is expected to be "one of competition, and even contention" in the future, because they are two great powers with very different histories, cultures, and interests.
But this highlights the importance of understanding each other, including the language and culture, so to prevent a future conflict, McGiffert said.
"And, we have to recognize that we are not necessarily going to be on the same page on all these big global challenges. So the question is how are we going to manage that relationship, so it doesn't move from competition and contention, to conflict," she said.
"That is what we are looking at this investment in the future of the relationship to make sure our young people have the skills to compete and collaborate and succeed in a world in which China and the U.S. are the dominant players," she added.
Asked about how her foundation plans to implement this ambitious initiative, McGiffert said it is working closely with a handful of states, including governors, state superintendents and mayors, on a pilot basis before going nationwide.
McGiffert said the initiative has three key pillars. The first is to develop standards and norms for the schools, so they can make Mandarin Chinese to align with the AP test that already exists.
The second is to substantially increase the number of Mandarin language teachers in American schools. The foundation will be working with a number of teacher's colleges and teacher certification organizations, to create "a homegrown teacher corps" in addition to teachers provided by China.
And the third focus is on the use of modern technology. As it is impossible to have a Chinese teacher in every K-12 school, so the foundation will let technology play a big role in reaching undeserved communities, rural communities, and other students from underrepresented groups.
As for the funding, McGiffert said her foundation is now raising it from foundations, and U.S. and Chinese corporations, while some of the funding will also come from the states that want to implement this project.
The 100,000-Strong Initiative, mainly for universities, was launched by President Obama in 2009 with an aim to increase to 100,000 the cumulative number of Americans studying in China over a five-year period. The goal was achieved in 2014.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department launched the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, to further build upon the initiative and its goals.
Hunter Gross, a former exchange student in China who just graduated from Hunter College in New York in Chinese studies, told Xinhua that the new 1-Million-Strong Initiative was "a great idea."
"I believe that language is the basis of all forms of communications ... if more Americans can communicate in Chinese with Chinese people, I think that would create a whole new trend of Chinese-U.S. relations -- a much better basis for these kinds of discussions," he said.
Juanique McNeill, also a former exchange student in the 100,000 Strong program, said the new initiative "will strengthen the relationship between the two countries."
She believed that learning a language is the best way to get inside the culture, and the more the two sides work to get a wise relationship, the better the world will be.