More students attend 2nd year of Schwarzman China program

FIEL - In this Sept. 10, 2016 file photo, Stephen Schwarzman, founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, speaks during a ceremony to officially open the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The study program at an elite Chinese university that was inspired by the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship launched its second year Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 with an endowment of more than $500 million and a considerable rise in applications. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING — A study program at an elite Chinese university that was inspired by the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship launched its second year Friday with an endowment of more than $500 million and a considerable rise in applications.

Schwarzman Scholars is a one-year master's degree program at Tsinghua University that was initiated by Stephen A. Schwarzman, a co-founder of the private equity firm Blackstone Group. It offers classroom teaching, travel, cultural immersion and practical work experience with Chinese companies and non-profits.

Schwarzman told The Associated Press the program facilitates mutual understanding and "getting a feeling for what the issues are and how they might be handled."

He said the first session had proved "enormously successful" and participation grew from 107 to 127 in the current session. More are expected for the third year, with organizers hoping to eventually have about 200 scholars in each class. Applicants are largely from the U.S. and China but include dozens of nationalities.

Rising applications show "there's a really important role for the program," which is affirmed by senior Chinese and U.S. figures in government, business and academia, Schwarzman said.

"Interestingly, there's enormous buy-in from both the United States and China in the program," he said.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have entered a new era of uncertainty under President Donald Trump, who earlier this year threatened to name China as a currency manipulator and briefly flirted with opening relations with Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its own territory.

Schwarzman, who had led one of Trump's now-disbanded business councils, said that while the relationship is "complicated," the two countries are "sort of tied very closely being the number one and two economies in the world and there is a lot of interdependence."

He also said the Schwarzman Scholars program had succeeded in its commitment to allow free debate of all topics, despite strict limits on what Chinese universities can teach and discuss in areas such as politics and history.

"That expectation has been fulfilled," he said.

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