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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Panel Discussion at Nanjing University (Nanjing, China)

Nanjing, China, Monday, October 21, 2013


Thank you, President Chen, for your generous introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm welcome.

I am very happy, as Governor General of Canada, to make this state visit to the People’s Republic of China and to join all of you here today at Nanjing University. You have made me feel right at home.

In a very real way, this great school is truly my home away from home. My first visit to China took place nearly 35 years ago—a time when few Canadians or even Westerners had the privilege of experiencing the vibrant life and historic culture of your remarkable land and people.

As principal of Montreal’s McGill University, I came here in 1980 to begin work with a variety of Chinese and Canadian professionals which resulted in setting up a nationwide program in business management education. We achieved tremendous success. Our joint initiative helped more than 60 schools of higher learning in your country develop graduate degree programs in business management. It also spawned 47 two-way partnerships between universities in our two countries, which continue to flourish today.

Since then, these degree programs and partnerships have helped thousands of Chinese men and women get a solid grounding in advanced principles and methods of modern business.

This generation of business leaders has contributed mightily to the unprecedented economic success of your country. The 47 partnerships themselves have inspired these and many more schools to reach out across your borders and find many new ways for students, teachers and researchers from a variety of academic and scientific disciplines to live, study and work with their Canadian peers.

You—the men and women of Nanjing University—were at the forefront of this knowledge revolution. Your school used those early collaborative efforts to form close ties with several of my country’s leading centres of higher learning, including McGill University, University of Western Ontario—whose president, Amit Chakma, is here today—, University of Waterloo and University of British Columbia.

These partnerships have enriched the educations of thousands of young Chinese and Canadian men and women, spurred the uncovering of new knowledge in an array of fields and fostered greater understanding between our two countries. One prominent example of collaboration between Canada and Nanjing University that merits special mention is our work to design the Hainan harbour and plan how authorities manage the nearby coast. And that goes back to your professor Wang and the University of Waterloo.

The relationship between Nanjing University and Canada endures. A vivid and, for me, personal symbol of that friendship came a year ago when you granted me an honorary fellowship. This distinction testifies to the depth and meaning of the partnership between this distinguished university and my country.

It is also a continuation of the respect and affection that Nanjing University has always given me. I am humbled to be welcomed into such an august institution of higher learning as yours. As an honorary fellow of Nanjing University, therefore, I speak to you today not only as your friend and admirer, but also as your colleague here at my adopted alma mater, my school, my home.

This university’s successful relationship with its Canadian partners has revealed for me a core truth: Men and women achieve great things when they work together and share the knowledge they uncover across academic disciplines and international borders. I call this concept the diplomacy of knowledge.

It is a potent method that enables people to improve existing ideas, implement proven practices and make increasingly informed choices. It is also a remarkable way to expand the understanding of the beauty of knowledge—thereby fostering greater harmony between men and women of all nations and deepening the desire of the world’s people to use education to improve their own lives.

We men and women of Nanjing University share a bond that arises from our devotion to the diplomacy of knowledge. Together, we know that truths are universal. We know that knowledge is used most wisely when it is spread widely. We know that innovative ideas and practices are sparked by many open minds working together to reach common goals.

Our devotion to the quest for truth, the spread of insight and the spark of innovation demands that we take on a special role. We must find new ways and more opportunities for Chinese and Canadian students, teachers and researchers to practise the diplomacy of knowledge.

Equally essential, we must team up with and inspire men and women in business and industry, in the public and social services, in science and the creative arts, to carve their own paths toward greater sharing, cooperation and innovation.

As we go about this work, I am heartened by the knowledge that many people in both our countries enjoy already a keen sense of the value of working together across disciplines and borders to uncover, share, test and refine knowledge.

Over the course of the last 30 years, in a single generation, tens of millions of Chinese men and women from all walks of life have learned to speak, read and write English. This is the greatest achievement in linguistic studies in a single generation.  You as a country embraced this task with energy and enthusiasm, knowing that success would increase dramatically your ability to share your knowledge with the world and adapt ideas and practices from around the world to fit your unique circumstances.

China’s opening to the outside world—epitomized by the exchange of students and teachers—also has had a dramatic effect on my family. It galvanized three of my daughters to study here in your country and to learn to speak and understand Mandarin.

Jen spent many months at Fudan University Centre for Economic Studies through an exchange program with Canada’s Queen’s University. Alex studied and conducted research at Hangzhou University and Beijing Language and Culture University. And Debbie attended Zhejiang University, Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as this very school, Nanjing University. My daughters, by their example, have taught me much about the benefits and promise of the diplomacy of knowledge.

China’s desire to reach past its own borders is not only a winning one for our time. It is something you in this country have known and practised for centuries. People in China—but especially those here in Nanjing—rightly celebrate the voyages of Zheng He, whose expeditions carried Chinese knowledge, stimulated the exchange of ideas and expanded intellectual horizons around the world—more than half a century before Magellan circumnavigated the globe in the 15th century.

In a happy coincidence for our gathering today, this year marks the 600th anniversary of the launch of Zheng He’s fourth voyage from the Port of Nanjing to destinations along the coasts of what are today Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Africa.

This journey—like all of Zheng He’s voyages—was not one of conquest. Zheng He and the crews of his vast fleets, acting as official ambassadors of the Ming Emperor based here in Nanjing, carried with them a portion of the Yongle Dadian—then the most detailed encyclopaedia of human knowledge ever compiled—to share Chinese ideas, discoveries and inventions with the peoples they met.

While Zheng He’s voyages are well known here in your country, most in the West are just beginning to appreciate how Chinese maps and advanced knowledge about art, printing, astronomy, mathematics and architecture that Zheng He left behind in Europe provided many of the sparks of progressive thinking whose fire burns brightly still throughout the West.

Zheng He’s story and achievements are important for the whole world to know and remember for another reason: He is a powerful symbol to the people of today of China’s longstanding desire to engage with all nations.

This history is compelling Canadians to reflect on the influence the very first explorers had on our development as a people and country. In a very real way, you are enabling us to learn new things that cut to the very heart of our own national story, of who Canadians are as a people.

We in Canada welcome this journey of self-discovery. We have never feared where new ideas, discoveries and inventions take us and what they tell us about ourselves as individuals and as a country.

Canada’s longstanding desire to be open to the influences and knowledge of the world is reflected most vividly in the human face of our country. We are of many colours, faiths and backgrounds—as many as the world contains. We are also small in number—some 35 million at last count, half the population of Jiangsu Province—spread across a land larger even than the People’s Republic of China.

Any success we have enjoyed as a sparse population living in a vast land is a direct result of our willingness to welcome the world’s people, ideas and knowledge to our shores and to reach out in turn beyond them.

This generous spirit of openness and discovery led Dr. Norman Bethune to leave Canada and journey here to China, where he expressed his genuine calling and found his true heart. This spirit also inspired Dr. Joseph Needham, another Westerner with a deep, abiding love of China.

Through his travels, research and writing, Dr. Needham shared with many Europeans and North Americans for the very first time the great extent to which Chinese science and civilization throughout the centuries has influenced the West. Their love of knowledge and their generous, selfless efforts in sharing it widely make Bai Qiuen and Li Yuese knowledge diplomats of the highest rank.

Today, our two countries have set ambitious goals to expand our practice of the diplomacy of knowledge.

For example, in commerce, we have pledged to deepen the economic ties that create jobs and stimulate prosperity in both our countries. Through the hard work and entrepreneurial spirits of our businesspeople, we have achieved tremendous expansion of our two-way trade and investment flows. Now the challenge is for our companies to find new ways to expand our mutual wealth, and for our governments to support them in this quest.

In innovation, we signed the Canada-China Framework Agreement for Cooperation on Science, Technology and Innovation. The agreement targets several fertile areas in which we can collaborate. Now the challenge is for our scientists and engineers to use it to deepen our current research and development in these areas and find many more opportunities to work together.

In culture, we agreed to increase the number of cultural activities in each other’s country this year and next. We are off to a grand start. The National Arts Centre Orchestra very recently wrapped up a concert series in your country.

A photo exhibit to commemorate the earliest Chinese migrants to Canada just opened in Guangzhou. And four Chinese-Canadian authors not long ago concluded a visit to their ancestral homeland. Now the challenge is for our creative and performing artists to accelerate and maintain this momentum not just for the next two years but for many years to come.

In education, we set a goal to have at least 100,000 students gaining, sharing, testing and refining knowledge in one another’s country within five years. Today, some 84,000 Chinese students study in Canada, a figure that accounts for almost one third of my country’s entire population of international students. Approximately 3,400 Canadian students now learn and research in your country.

Now the challenge is ours directly as academics not merely to reach the goal of 100,000 students but to go far beyond it. We need to increase this number dramatically. We especially need to find ways to mobilize and attract young Canadians to Chinese universities to earn academic credit and, more importantly, to gain international experience and a genuine understanding of China—attributes that can have far-reaching influences on their future and the future of our relationship as two great countries.

As we work together to enhance academic exchanges, we should consider improving access to learning opportunities. Education should not be for elites alone. All people should be able to access high-quality educations. I am thinking especially of students in Canada and China who come from poor families or rural areas who have great potential and ambition but believe education abroad is simply out of reach.

As academics, we have a special responsibility to fulfil in not merely reaching our goals, but also helping all students reach theirs. While this school has done much over the years to connect students, teachers and researchers in our two countries, we cannot become complacent. We have to work harder than ever not only to achieve greater success here at Nanjing University, but also through this school’s success to inspire other universities to achieve successes of their own.

Canadians look upon China fondly and want your country to grow and develop in all aspects of life. We have been especially impressed and delighted by China’s rapid economic progress. We also follow with interest your country’s political reform.

As a lawyer by degree, I believe fervently in the rule of law, constitutional government, an independent judiciary and strong protections for the rights of individual citizens. These principles are absolute requirements for stable, prosperous and fair countries. They are also the basis of many opportunities for exchanges between our countries. We should waste no time in taking advantage of these opportunities to work together to strengthen these pillars of just societies in both our countries.

I have spent the first three years of my tenure as Canada’s Governor General taking insights that I have gained from my experiences in China and sharing them with people across my country and around the world.

I have called on students to choose careers that combine personal success and public service.

I have called on educators to increase the number of students learning foreign languages; to encourage more of their professors to take their sabbaticals in other countries; to link their research labs with those in other parts of the world; and to arrange accreditation and certification processes to make it possible for students to earn degrees by completing courses and fulfilling requirements at universities in different countries.

I have called on men and women from all walks of life to be knowledge diplomats in their own lives and careers—to reach across borders and disciplines to uncover, test and establish universal truths; to spark innovative ideas and practices; to use the beauty and power of education to secure for all peoples the peace, prosperity and personal fulfilment that is their birthright and create the smarter, more caring world that is the dream of all humankind.

Today, I bring this message home to China and to you—my colleagues at Nanjing University. We must open our minds and our hearts even wider. We must reach out even farther beyond our borders and in more directions. We must intensify our efforts, supply more resources, provide additional incentives and furnish greater opportunities to enable many more students, teachers, researchers and scientists in our respective countries to live, study, teach and collaborate together.

Right here and now, we must use our forthcoming panel discussion—itself an expression of the diplomacy of knowledge—to ask ourselves some hard questions:

Based on our past experiences together, what should partnership models between China and Canada look like in the future?

How do we encourage much more integrated research and many more academic exchanges between schools and other institutes of higher learning in our countries?

What is the best way to expand our partnerships to include more players in more countries so that our partnerships are truly global in scale?

Together, Chinese and Canadians, we must answer these questions and more. We must do all we can to truly make the diplomacy of knowledge a vivid reality in our countries and for peoples throughout the world. This is our duty. We dare not fail.