Chinese President Hu Jintao will speak at Yale Sept. 8 as part of a high-profile visit to the United States, University officials confirmed Thursday.
The stop at Yale will be part of Hu’s first trip to the United States since taking office in March 2003. Hu will make a speech, most likely in the morning, to a full house in Sprague Hall, which will have a limited amount of seating because of security concerns. The University will also host a series of discussions and events related to China on the day of Hu’s visit to New Haven.
Since last week, Yale officials have held serious conversations with Chinese security personnel over the terms of Hu’s visit, Yale President Richard Levin said, and Hu’s security detail liked Sprague because of its small size. Because Sprague Hall can only accommodate an audience of a few hundred, Yale TV — the University’s cable television station — will broadcast the speech live, and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler will host a live telecast of the address.
Levin said the limited seats in Sprague Hall would probably be given primarily to Yale faculty members and students who have demonstrated involvement with China. Yale officials are also expecting a large contingent of the international media in Sprague Hall as well as Hu’s entourage, which could number close to 100, Levin said.
Yale officials said Friday they do not yet know what Hu will address during his speech. Jing Huang, an expert on U.S.-China relations at the Brookings Institution said he thinks Hu is likely to highlight common ground between the United States and China by discussing education or globalization instead of addressing differences between the United States and the Communist regime.
Levin first invited the Chinese president to speak on campus during his trip to China in November 2003.
“It’s a great honor for Yale, and I do think it reflects the great commitment that so many of our faculty have shown to the study of China,” Levin said. “It also reflects the work of many people at the University in running educational programs that have been of value to the Chinese.”
In more recent years, relations with China have become key to the University’s efforts to raise its global profile. Levin has traveled to China four times in the past four years and will visit the country again in late September, when he will facilitate research partnerships between the Yale School of Medicine and several Chinese medical schools.
Hu’s visit to Yale is symbolic and suggests that the Chinese leader, who also heads the Chinese Communist Party, may be trying to communicate with elite members of American society, Huang said.
“We all know that universities like Yale are a place where a lot of elites have been produced in the past, and we believe that a lot of elite people will be produced in the future,” Huang said. “Another advantage of talking at Yale instead of in the White House is that he can say something that may not be appropriate to say in Washington, D.C.”
A visit by Hu to Yale might prompt a response from campus activist groups who take issue with China’s track record on human rights, said Emily Jones ’06, who coordinates social justice activities for Dwight Hall.
“I think the overwhelming majority of activists at Yale support international dialogue and a sort of global conversation,” Jones said. “That having been said, there are obviously some human rights concerns and labor concerns.”
Since 1999, the Chinese government has been criticized for persecuting practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline. At least 2,781 Chinese citizens have died from police abuse and torture, and hundreds of thousands have been arrested, detained or sent to forced labor camps, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. The abuse continues under Hu’s regime, said Joel Chipkar, a spokesperson for the center.
“It is Hu’s responsibility to stop this,” Chipkar said. “If the students at Yale could bring this up, it would be extremely powerful.”
Following Hu’s address, Ian Shapiro, director the Yale Center for Area and International Studies, will moderate a faculty panel in the Yale Law School Auditorium featuring history professor Jonathan Spence, history professor John Gaddis, Yale Law School professor Paul Gewirtz, sociology professor Deborah Davis, Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh and Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico and director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
A White House spokesperson said Hu will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 at the White House on Sept. 7. The Epoch Times, a newspaper produced in New York that extensively covers China, reported that in exchange for Hu’s visit, President Bush would receive an invitation to speak at Hu’s alma mater later this year. The White House has not announced any such plans.