President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Princeton in the World—in Asia
April 23, 2008
In early March I was part of a delegation of Princeton faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni that traveled to Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong to kick off the Aspire campaign and to meet with our alumni and parents, as well as educational and governmental leaders. In our first stop in Singapore, we were graciously hosted by Doris Lee Sohmen-Pao ’93, the president of the Princeton Club of Singapore. Singapore is a modern city-state that has made enormous investments in education, science, and technology. After a productive meeting with leaders of the National University of Singapore, John Diekman ’65 and I visited the newly constructed Biopolis, a large complex of government-sponsored biomedical research institutes that are designed to feed a nascent pharmaceutical industry in Singapore. The visionary founder, Philip Yeo, has recruited scientists (includ-ing several friends of mine) from all over the world with the promise of world-class facilities and substantial resources, and has developed a scholarship program that sends the brightest South East Asian students to the United States and the United Kingdom for both undergraduate and graduate education in science and engineering. It is an interesting and ambitious effort to jump-start a future scientific powerhouse.
One highlight of our visit to Singapore was a meeting with Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the independent Republic of Singapore. Now known as Minister Mentor, he expressed to Steve Oxman ’67, the chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, Margaret Miller ’80, director of the Alumni Council, and me his pride in all that Singapore has accomplished since it achieved self-government in 1959, as well as his concern about its future in a region that remains politically volatile. He attributes Singapore’s ascendancy to hard work, discipline, and high standards of integrity within the government—reinforced with salaries that are competitive with the private sector.
After a celebratory dinner, in which campaign co-chair Bob Murley ’72 and I reviewed the goals of the campaign for an enthusiastic group of Princetonians, several of us flew off to Shanghai to meet with Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 and Professor of Politics and International Affairs Andrew Moravcsik, who are spending a year’s leave at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies with their family. This was my first visit to this fascinating city, and it lived up to its advance billing. It is a curious mixture of grand European monuments built in the late 19th and early 20th century, towering skyscrapers that have risen in the last 10 years, and low-lying residential neighborhoods that retain their Chinese character. Like the rest of China, it is a city that is coping with enormous change—from the influx of migrant workers from the provinces, who have limited rights to remain, to the air pollution, which is truly problematic. On the other hand, our meetings with very impressive leaders at Fudan University, one of China’s premier universities, and local government officials in Shanghai left us with optimism that China’s leaders are realistically facing up to the challenges ahead. That evening we were hosted by Princeton Club of Shanghai leaders Luis Tapia ’02, Joon Lee ’05, and Bruce Robertson ’65 for dinner with a vibrant group of Princetonians, several of whom are recent graduates in our renowned Princeton-in-Asia program. It was a moment to savor “Princeton in the service of all nations.”
The next day we were off to Hong Kong, where Dean Slaughter, Professor Moravcsik, and I met with Chee-Hwa H. and Betty Tung, parents of Audrey ’84, Andrew ’87, and Alan ’90. Mr. Tung was the first chief executive of Hong Kong after sovereignty was returned to China in 1997. He was responsible for implementing the “one country, two systems” structure that oversees Hong Kong’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Although there were many dire predictions about the fate of Hong Kong after reunification, the city today is remarkably international in character, with a booming economy, a respected legal system, and freedom of religious expression. Everyone I met expressed a palpable pride in China’s progress in becoming an important economic power, while acknowledging the problems that China continues to face, including the unpredictable consequences of its rapid growth, the very gradual transition of its system of government to one that is more participatory, and serious environmental issues.
The highlight of the Hong Kong visit was a Regional Alumni Conference, co-chaired by Sir Gordon Wu ’58 and William Fung ’70. The participants were treated to a panel discussion with Hong Kong residents William Fung and Andy Yan *90 on the economic prospects for China, lectures by Trustee Eric Schmidt ’76, Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Associate Professor of Molecular Biology Sam Wang, and a campaign kick-off dinner that featured our own Jazz Composers Collective, directed by Tony Branker ’80.
This trip is tangible evidence of the University’s commitment to being “in the world.” Its success was due to the hard work of many alumni in the region who planned so thoughtfully and welcomed us with such graciousness. I am indebted to them all.