The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Panel Discussion at Sun Yat-sen University (Guangzhou, China)

Guangzhou, China, Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thank you, President Xu, 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 Sun Yat-sen University.

I have spent all of my career deeply immersed in university life—first as a student, then as a professor, dean and, finally, president. Universities were my professional home right up until the day I became Canada’s Governor General. So as a university man at heart, I’m thrilled to be standing here among so many colleagues at one of the world’s great centres of learning.

We are all academics. We are students, teachers, researchers, administrators and executives who share a citizenship that transcends boundaries of culture, ethnicity and nation. Ours is a citizenship based on a collective understanding that we hold firmly and cherish deeply.

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. We know that education is the surest path to peace, prosperity and personal fulfilment for all the peoples of the world.

Our devotion to the quest for truth, knowledge, innovation and peace that flows naturally from higher education demands of us a special role in making stronger the relationship between China and Canada.

That special role is to lead all men and women in our countries in practising something I call the diplomacy of knowledge. The diplomacy of knowledge is the willingness of men and women to work together and share the knowledge they uncover across academic disciplines, national borders and geographic boundaries.

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

Equipped with a keen awareness of the value of the diplomacy of knowledge, we university men and women must act to make available more opportunities for Chinese and Canadians to practise it.

Here at Sun Yat-sen University and at institutes of higher learning throughout our two countries, we must help increasing numbers of students learn foreign languages; encourage more of our professors to take their sabbaticals in other countries; link our research labs with those in other parts of the world; and arrange certification processes that make it possible for students to earn degrees by completing courses and fulfilling requirements at universities in different countries.

These and similar efforts will serve our own pursuit of teaching and learning. Our example will also inspire men and women in business, industry, sciences, the creative arts and the public and social services to carve their own paths toward greater sharing, cooperation and innovation.

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

Your country has been a particularly bright light. One example of your brilliance shines most clearly in my mind. Over the course of the last 30 years, a single generation, tens of millions of Chinese men and women have learned to speak, read and write English. Yours is a great achievement in linguistic studies.

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.

This approach is not only a winning one for our time. It is one that you in this country have known and practised for centuries. You 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.

Zheng He and the crews of his vast fleets, acting as official ambassadors of the Ming emperor, carried with them a portion of the Yongle Dadian—then the most detailed encyclopaedia of human knowledge ever created—to share Chinese ideas, discoveries and inventions with the peoples they met.

Zheng He is a powerful symbol to today’s world of China’s longstanding desire to engage with all peoples. While his 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.

This history is also compelling Canadians to re-examine 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 openness to the 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—spread across a land larger even than your own. Any success we have enjoyed 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 your land, where he expressed his genuine calling and found his true heart.

It 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—united as knowledge diplomats—must now serve as a shining example to the world. I am delighted to see that Canada and its many partners in South China are showing the way. I know of 15 specific examples of deep collaboration between organizations from our countries in health and life sciences alone. Two of these partnerships are particularly relevant to the panel discussion we will have shortly.

MedMira of Canada—Halifax, Nova Scotia to be exact—and Triplex International Bioscience of China have entered into a joint venture to set up in Xiamen a testing and development centre for new health products. The University of Alberta in Edmonton and your very own Sun Yat-sen University here in Guangzhou have agreed to work together on projects in the life, agricultural and environmental sciences.

I am thrilled that the principal players from these partnerships are with us today; and I look forward to learning in the panel discussion how they are using the diplomacy of knowledge to bring innovations in life and health sciences from the lab bench to our homes, schools, farms, hospitals and workplaces.

All of us must pay close attention to what they say, for true innovation is not one simple action, but a total process of interrelated functions. Innovation is not one moment of discovery and understanding, but a complex chain of refinement, improvement and mass manufacturing that culminates in widespread use. Innovation does not arise from one man or woman working in isolation, but from many people from different countries and disciplines working together and bringing to bear their particular perspective and understanding.

Our awareness of the special nature of innovation enables us to appreciate that we must take action continually to nurture new generations of knowledge diplomats in science and engineering. Our two countries have set as a goal to have at least 100,000 students gaining and sharing knowledge in one another’s country within five years.

At this moment, some 84,000 Chinese students study in Canada, a figure that accounts for one-third of my country’s entire population of international students. Approximately 3,400 Canadian students now learn and research in your country.

We university men and women cannot be satisfied with this performance. We must reach the goal of 100,000 students and go far beyond it. We must intensify our efforts, supply more resources, provide additional incentives and furnish greater opportunities to enable and ensure many more students, teachers, researchers and scientists in our respective countries live, study, teach and collaborate together.

We especially need to find ways to mobilize and attract young Canadians to Chinese universities, as three of my daughters have done, to earn academic credits and, more importantly, to gain international experience and a genuine understanding of China—attributes that can have far-reaching influences on their futures 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 the privileged alone. All people—women and men, young and not so young, rich and poor, urban and rural—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.

We should ask ourselves: what is the diplomacy of knowledge?

Based on our past experiences together, what should education and research 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 science labs, schools and other institutes of higher learning and sophisticated research in our countries?

What is the best way to expand our academic and scientific 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. For buoyed by our shared citizenship as university men and women, we appreciate keenly the power of the diplomacy of knowledge to uncover, test and establish universal truths; to spark innovative ideas and practices; to secure for all peoples the peace, prosperity and personal fulfilment that is their birthright; to create the smarter, more caring world that is the dream of all humankind.