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Harvard College China Forum Hosts Annual Conference on U.S.-China Relations

Former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers speaks virtually at the 2024 Harvard China Forum. The Forum's 27th annual conference was held this weekend.
Former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers speaks virtually at the 2024 Harvard China Forum. The Forum's 27th annual conference was held this weekend. By Emily L. Ding
By Michael R. Carney, Patil Djerdjerian, and Mandy Zhang, Contributing Writers

The Harvard College China Forum hosted its 27th annual conference over the weekend, which discussed international relations, entrepreneurship, public health, and artificial intelligence.

A total of 130 panelists spoke during the conference, including former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers, Economics professor Jason Furman ’92, former Microsoft Vice President David S. Chen, and Dennis Wilder, the former Director for China at the White House National Security Council.

During the welcome ceremony Friday evening, Furman cited the importance of Sino-American relations in improving the economies and innovation of both countries.

“The most important way that all of these benefits happen is through openness — openness to trade, openness to capital flows,” Furman said. “Some of the most important openness is openness to human beings.”

Furman also noted the challenges that pose threats to the relationship between America and China.

“Now, there are differences too. There are conflicts of interest economically, there are conflicts of interest geopolitically. None of this is easy to navigate,” he added.

Summers concluded the opening ceremony by offering an optimistic outlook on the futures of the two countries.

“My hope is this crucial juncture year 2024, is that on both sides, we can find some areas — perhaps artificial intelligence, perhaps the environment — to cooperate. And we can find other areas in which we can respect each other’s boundaries,” Summers said.

He emphasized the importance of fostering open dialogue between the two countries through initiatives like the Harvard College China Forum.

“It seems to me that a greater understanding of each other’s world skew is not sufficient to ensure successful harmonization as we function together on the global stage,” Summers said. “It is not sufficient, but it is surely necessary.”

“That’s why I picked conferences like this one, where perspectives are shared,” he added. “They are so very important.”

The second day of the event included a business case competition sponsored by Wyze — a company specializing in smart home care products — and a pitch competition in which six finalists were selected to present their startup innovation pitches to a panel of judges from top venture capital firms in China and the U.S. A prize of $25,000 was awarded to the top two teams.

Following the competition, Salman Asim, a senior economist in Education GP at the World Bank, discussed the implications of AI changing education during a panel on “Artificial Intelligence in U.S.-China Education.”

“So previously, the education system at the K-12 level is modeled at teaching to the median child and it loses kind of like the smartest kids in the classroom and the underperforming kids, because the teacher is always trying to balance the two, to design the lesson plans,” he said.

“Artificial intelligence provides a solution to that problem, having directed personalized teaching, through the tutoring system,” Asim added.

In particular, Asim pointed to how other countries are implementing AI into their education systems.

“South Korea is introducing textbooks embedded with artificial intelligence technology, where the tasks and exercises are going to respond to how the students are learning in their particular area,” he said.

Jenny Yao, an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said she attended the conference “to get exposure” to the “breadth of expertise here.”

Yao said the people with expertise on U.S.-China relations are “a small community of bubbles.”

“To get more information from people who are actually doing the work and on the front lines is very insightful,” she said.

Andy Zeng ’24, the co-president of HCCF, said he was “super happy” to hear attendees “share with me what they’ve learned.”

Zeng also highlighted his hopes for how the forum aims to provide insights into navigating U.S.-China relations amid ongoing geopolitical tensions.

“I’m glad HCCF is able to walk the line between both creating an open platform for sharing and discourse but also allowing speakers that really say what’s on their hearts,” he said.

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