We’re all in this together


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President Obama’s trip to China this week garnered a lot of attention — and with good reason.

It seems like with each passing day, China’s clout on the world stage increases. China is seen as not only a rising power but the next world superpower. Before and during this recession — which saw the federal government take extraordinary measures to rescue the economy — China has been our financier.

But what’s often overlooked is the role young people will play in shaping the future of Chinese society and the necessity of collective action globally.

The first official event in China President Obama participated in was a town hall with Chinese youth.

Obama gave a speech and took questions from the audience and the Internet, much like he would here in the United States.

This event wasn’t earthshattering; Obama didn’t flip China’s political system from authoritarian to democratic. And, interestingly enough, the Chinese youth who participated in the town hall weren’t as enamored with the 44th president as many are in other foreign capitals.

But it was nonetheless important.

It opened up the door for a broader dialogue with Chinese society — a dialogue about the U.S.-China relationship in the 21st century and a dialogue about what role China is assuming on the world stage. And it seems as if Obama views events like these as strategically important. In most of the president’s major overseas trips he has participated in or given a speech to a young audience.

His speech at Cairo University was aimed at bettering our relationship with the Muslim world. In the president’s trip to Russia to negotiate a new set of nuclear nonproliferation agreements, he addressed Russian college students. In a much-heralded trip that showcased Europe’s love affair with first lady Michelle Obama, the president participated in a town-hall meeting with youth in France. And finally, with this most recent trip to China, Obama attempted to speak directly to the next generation of leaders.

The world is changing, and the problems that confront the world require cooperative action. The upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark is a perfect example.

But while the world is changing, sometimes our politics and our willingness to put aside our differences doesn’t adapt. Sometimes you have to go beyond or above political leaders to get your message across.

To address the 21st-century challenges that will confront our world, citizens will need to feel connected to each other. Our fates are fundamentally intertwined. Students and young people can help bridge the gaps that exist in our world. Unlike any previous generation, young people can connect, befriend, and travel around the world. This generation has a heightened sense of global conscientiousness.

My point is, you shouldn’t feel disconnected at all from what Obama is doing in China or any other country for that matter. Long after today’s political leaders are gone, it will be up to you to clean up the mess they made or continue the work they started.

Young people ignited Obama’s campaign. Young people marched, were bloodied, and died during the ’60s fighting for civil rights. Young people in South Africa fought long and arduously to end apartheid. And young people all across the world are now demanding leaders address global warming.

People rightly complain about continued poverty in China, human-rights abuses, and a lack of real democratic reforms in the midst of such an economic transformation. China’s current regime may be slow to change, but Obama laid the building blocks for reform at his town hall with Chinese students.

And young people all across the world continue to lay those building blocks for change.

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