Over the weekend, I got a note from Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) ) who wrote: “John, I saw you referred to Coffman’s attack on PC China. We’ve been organizing some responses — a number of letters sent to him already, and I’ll write something for the Denver Post. This is the letter the China RPCV group sent, in case you’re interested.” –]
Here is the letter from the China RPCVs….
September 9, 2011
The Honorable Mike Coffman
1222 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
Your letter to President Obama calling for the suspension of the Peace Corps Program in China has stirred a great deal of concern amongst the hundreds of former Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in southwest China over the past 18 years. For most of us, working in China was an invaluable opportunity to learn about an important culture and society. The experience was worth more than our monthly stipend of $125.
That small investment by the U.S. taxpayers will over the long term pay dividends to the United States. Many of the former China Peace Corps Volunteers have gone onto work for the U.S. government as foreign service officers and with the USAID. Today they are serving in Kabul, Manila, Monrovia, Belfast, Maputo, Kingston and multiple cities in China.
Many former China Volunteers also work for other agencies of the U.S. government. They work for nonprofit organizations and support exchange programs such as the Fulbright and the International Visitor Leadership Program. These RPCVs seek to build relationships similar to those that we formed during our years living and working in China. (Such exchange programs have funded overseas travels of 46 Americans who are now current members of our U.S. Congress.)
Returned China Volunteers have written award-winning books about China, as well as Pulitzer-winning articles. Returned China Volunteers have taken leading positions in international affairs offices at U.S. universities, and they are teaching in our high schools and elementary schools, drawing upon their experiences overseas, specifically their experiences in China.
Because of the Peace Corps, America has stronger ties with China and the Chinese people. That is, of course, one of the Three Goals of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps program in China was recently cited during the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange between the U.S. government and the Chinese government. Secretary of State Clinton said “We very much appreciate the support that our Friendship Volunteers have received from the Ministry of Education and the China Education Association.
President George W. Bush, during a visit to Asia in 2002, called for the expansion of the China program, saying, “‘The Peace Corps stands for what we fight for. If we let the Peace Corps shrink, we would be doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do.”
As China has continued to support the development of Confucius Institutes in the United States, having American Peace Corps Volunteers working in far-flung parts of China can be viewed as a reciprocal effort. Young, recently graduated American teachers spend two years in remote areas of China, talking about America, dispelling misperceptions about the United States, and forging lifelong friendships with Chinese students, teachers and citizens of various walks of life. Many times the American volunteers are This increase in mutual understanding is backed by the recent review of the Peace Corps program in China (March, 2011), which included interviews with Chinese school leaders, teachers, and students who have worked with the Peace Corps in China. The review found that: “One of the things most students in Chinese colleges and universities are expected to become the leaders of tomorrow, a more complete knowledge of U.S. and western culture is seen as an important aspect of their education, and since most of the students in the regions served will not live in or travel to the U.S., having Peace Corps Volunteers as teachers and even friends is a good way to learn firsthand about Americans and U.S. culture.”
Recently the U.S. government has developed its “100,000” initiative, which is designed to increase the number of American college students studying in China to a total of 100,000 students spread over the course of the next several years. The Peace Corps has helped lay the groundwork for these efforts in areas of China where Americans aren’t traditionally working or studying. It has developed connections at colleges and universities all across southwest China that will make the “100,000 Strong” goal more attainable.
As we observe the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, one of the lessons of that tragedy is that it is in U.S. interest not to cut off meaningful connections with citizens of other countries. This is especially true in places where people may have very different viewpoints than the U.S. Public diplomacy budgets were cut during the 1990’s after the end of the Cold War, with the thought that the need for long-term engagement of that nature had decreased. The U.S. government has since reversed this trend after September 11, making a concerted effort to increase exchanges between countries in the Middle East and countries with large Muslim populations, and increasing opportunities for Americans to learn critical languages like Arabic and Chinese.
Therefore, we feel that the United States should not cut off one of the most effective programs that America has ever established in China. In our national interest, we urge you to reconsider your stance towards the Peace Corps program in China.
The Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of China