Nation reshaped by rapid urbanization

Editor's Note: The rise of urban clusters is undoubtedly a significant impetus propelling China's economic miracle. In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT) reporters Bai Yunyi and Wang Yi, Alain Bertaud (Bertaud), a former chief urban planner at the World Bank and author of "Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities," discussed the rise of Chinese urban clusters and the influence on China's economic growth.

Bertrand brings a wealth of research experiences and unique insights to his analysis of the exceptional performance of major urban clusters like the Yangtze River Delta and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area city clusters. He highlights the significance of scale, agglomeration effect, and innovation capability in the clusters, which underscores the great potential for enhancing China's productivity and lifting Chinese people's broad livelihood. 

GT:Have you visited China in recent years? What impressions do you have of the development of Chinese cities and urban clusters?

Bertaud: Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to visit China recently. My last trip to China was six years ago. I have tried to follow the land development by observing satellite imagery.

I began working in China during my first visit in 1983 and continued to return to the country until 2018. This experience has enabled me to witness China's development over a period of 35 years. The development of Chinese cities has been absolutely astonishing to me, especially in terms of infrastructure.

What impressed me the most are the large urban clusters in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta - now the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), which has unparalleled size. The San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley and surrounding areas, is home to approximately 7 million people. The GBA now has a population of around 90 million people, equivalent to the entire population of Germany. The region is increasingly connected by rapid rail. Twenty years ago, it would take about two or three hours to travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by train. However, based on the data I have now, the journey only takes about 40 minutes.

In my view, there are still some progresses to be made in transport in the GBA. If this can be achieved, the GBA would be by far the most productive and innovative area in the world. What we have learned in urban development is that if you manage to have a very large labor market, the productivity of this area is much higher than the productivity of smaller cities, even though running a large city is more complex than running a small city.

I'm very encouraged to see that the local governments in China encourage innovation in different type of transport, not only speedy trains, but also self-driving cars. I think that this experimentation is absolutely necessary. In Europe and the US, cities are often hesitant to embrace change, leading to the implementation of regulations that could slow down change there. It appears that the Chinese are facing change much more eagerly and with more imagination.

GT: You once mentioned that China's unprecedentedly huge urban clusters have the potential to usher in a new era of improved productivity and creativity. Could you elaborate on the perspective? Compared to urban clusters in other parts of the world, what advantages do Chinese urban clusters have in terms of scale, economic benefits from concentration, and innovation capability?

Bertaud: I see two advantages.

First, size. I discussed before that China's GBA is larger in size compared to other clusters. If you look at productivity, innovation, size is important. 

Second, land use. Many manufacturing enterprises in the San Francisco Bay Area have relocated due to high land prices. The area now primarily consists of research labs, office buildings, and other brain work-related industries. Manufacturing has been outsourced to other parts of the US or even to other countries.

In China, industrial areas continue to remain in clusters like the Yangtze River Delta and the GBA. I believe this creates an advantage because research is important, but researchers must also be exposed to manufacturing in order to improve it. The key is not just inventing new things, but making those inventions work for the common good and commercializing them. I believe that the land use diversity in Chinese clusters is an advantage in achieving this.

GT:In 2017, you said in an interview that the most successful cities are those who embrace rapid urbanization rather than those that try to slow this process down. At that time, you mentioned China's ability to rapidly develop urban infrastructure. In your view, what enabled China to achieve fast urbanization? Is there anything in this process that other developing countries can learn?

Bertaud: I think there are cultural reasons that are difficult to replicate. When I was working in China, I noticed that China has a very clear and efficient decision-making system. This is a major advantage of China, but I am not sure if it's possible to transmit it to other countries.

In many other countries, at a local level of a city, there is a fragmentation of decision-making, which slows down decision-making. For instance, in New York, there has been an effort to implement congestion pricing to reduce traffic in the city center. However, the decision-making process is fragmented, resulting in no progress being made. 

GT: You discussed in your book the complementary relationship between infrastructure planning and market mechanisms. What changes do you think have occurred in China's urban planning since the reform and opening-up compared to before?

Bertaud: On the one hand, China has been able to develop top-down infrastructure, which must be designed in advance. On the other hand, the infrastructure has increasingly responded to market demands. I believe this is a significant strength of China. In the West, we sometimes face challenges with our top-down infrastructure due to fragmented decision-making.

Another advantage of China is that the boundaries around cities are very large. There are rural counties that are part of the municipality, which I believe is a significant advantage compared to the fragmentation we sometimes see in the West. 

GT:A few years ago, The Economist reported that China is striving to transform itself into a nation composed of 19 major regions based on large urban clusters. At that time, you stated that if integrated properly, China's urban clusters could achieve productivity levels never seen before, "comparable to the gap between the UK and the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution." Six years later, any change to your prior prediction? 

Bertaud: I think that because of the demography now, I will slightly modify my comment 10 years ago. In my opinion, even if some of China's major city clusters succeed, that would be enough to drive the economy of China.

I think that eventually the best city will attract more people. People vote with their feet. The most creative people, more entrepreneurs will be attracted there. I think that's the way probably the Chinese clusters succeed. 

GT:In your opinion, what challenges do China's large urban clusters still face, and what can be done in the future?

Bertaud: I think they are on the right track. I will concentrate on the transport and especially the last five-kilometer of transport. From the high-speed railway station to people's final destinations, whether it is a residential area or an office, there is still room for further improvement in the level of transportation and comfort.

The second is housing. Try to increase the supply of housing by encouraging competition, rather than relying solely on large companies. Smaller developers are typically more in tune with local demand and may be more likely to identify opportunities on smaller parcels of undeveloped land. In a city, people of all income levels are essential and should have access to affordable housing.

German plan to phase out Huawei, ZTE telecom gear from its 5G networks is criticized

China hopes Germany respect facts and makes reasonable decisions, urging the European country to provide a fair market environment for enterprises from all countries, including Chinese companies, Lin Jian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told a press conference on Thursday.

Lin made the remarks in response to reports claiming that the German government and telecom carriers in the country have agreed in principle on steps to take out components made by Chinese companies from the nation's 5G wireless network during the next five years.

According to Reuters, under the preliminary agreement driven by "security considerations," the telecom operators will initially remove the country's 5G core network equipment made by Chinese companies including Huawei and ZTE by 2026.

In a second phase, the role of Chinese makers' parts for antennas, transmission lines and towers would be eliminated by 2029.

Lin said that Chinese technology companies such as Huawei have been operating in Europe for many years, building high-quality communications infrastructure for Europe, creating a large number of jobs and tax revenues, and there is no evidence that the Chinese equipment jeopardize the national security of European countries.

"Politicizing economic, trade and sci-tech issues will only undermine normal technological exchanges and cooperation, which is not in the interest of any party," Lin said, urging Germany to independently make decisions in line with its own interests and international rules, while also providing a fair, transparent, open and non-discriminatory market environment for enterprises from all countries, including China.

Telecom operators in the country have previously resisted Berlin's efforts to drive the expensive phase-out of Huawei, Reuters reported. However, the cost of the transition is expected to be significant.

The US telecommunication sector regulator said in May that nearly 40 percent of US telecom companies need additional government funding to remove telecom equipment made by Chinese companies from America's wireless networks.

PwC reportedly to lay off half of auditors in China for structural optimization

International auditing company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) will reportedly reduce about 50 percent of its financial services audit staff in China, in addition to discharging about 20 percent of its staff in other auditing lines and non-auditing businesses.

The lay-off followed PwC's dismissal of stories that its branch in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, was to shut down on July 10.

PwC said the lay-off was a difficult decision, noting that due to the changes in external circumstances, the auditing firm has optimized its organizational structure in response to market demand, Chinese media outlet reported.

PwC said that the company has always valued talent and have invested heavily in talent development over recent years, adding that they are engaging in thorough communication with the employees and ensuring that the labor adjustment plan complies with relevant Chinese labor laws.

The report cited an employee of PwC, confirming the lay-off news and saying that they were discharged in the first week of July. Another employee said that new recruits this year were not affected.

PwC China office now has over 800 partners, and more than 20,000 workers in total, who are scattered in 29 Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, Macao and Xiong'an in North China's Hebei Province, PwC's website said.

Multiple listed companies in China have announced they are switching away from the PwC partly due to China's finance regulator is considering a significant penalty for the firm over its role in auditing the embattled property developer China Evergrande Group, which filed for bankruptcy last year and was ordered to be liquidated earlier this year.

In earlier July, the official website of PwC showed that it has appointed Li Dan, also known as Daniel Li, as the new chairman to head PwC Asia Pacific and China area.

Li has served in navigating the complexities of IPOs, M&As, inbound and outbound transaction for a diverse range of MNCs, POEs and SOEs, the company's website said. "Li will lead PwC China in its mission of 'solving important problems and building social integrity,'" the company said earlier.

China-Pakistan green cooperation gains pace, a viable model of sustainable development: expert

Pakistan and China are deepening cooperation in emerging green sectors through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Mustafa Hyder Sayed, executive director of the Pakistan-China Institute told the Global Times in a recent exclusive interview. 

Sayed viewed the green CPEC project as a global model of people-centered, win-win cooperation that significantly advances new energy transition and sustainable economic development.

The comments came ahead of the 8th China-South Asia Expo, which is scheduled to take place in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, on July 23-28. During the Expo, green energy will stand out as a crucial sector where the two regions aim to enhance extensive and diversified business cooperation, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

Sayed highlighted accelerating Chinese industry relocation and technology transfer to Pakistan to enhance bilateral cooperation across green sectors. "This process will fuel local economic development and energy transition while allowing Chinese firms to benefit from Pakistan's lower production costs, facilitating China's green engagements with Central Asia and the Middle East," he said.

CPEC, a flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is now upgrading into a green economic corridor. Sayed noted that the initiative has significantly benefited Pakistan by addressing its energy crunch, improving intra-country and cross-regional connectivity, developing local infrastructure, and revitalizing ports for enhanced commerce.

Pakistan is committed to developing renewable energy projects and investing in eco-friendly initiatives within the green CPEC by absorbing and utilizing Chinese advanced expertise and technologies, Sayed said, acknowledging the necessity of securing financial support from China. 

"Drawing investments from Panda Bonds, which are yuan-denominated debts issued by foreign entities in China, along with green bonds issued by Chinese banks, will contribute to funding green projects and fostering sustainable development in Pakistan," Sayed said.

Since its establishment in 2013, CPEC had cumulatively created 236,000 jobs for Pakistan and contributed to the addition of 510 kilometers of highways, 8,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity, and 886 kilometers of expressway network across the country, according to official data. 

Various energy projects under CPEC, such as wind energy and hydroelectric projects in northern Pakistan, are the country's notable efforts toward diversifying the energy matrix. Chinese investments can help Pakistan reduce dependence on imported fuels while supporting its vision of reaching 30 percent of green energy capacity in the power mix by 2030, according to Sayed.

In June, the first unit of the China-built Suki Kinari Hydropower project in northwest Pakistan entered its wet testing phase, marking a major step towards official operation and power generation, furthering the progress of renewable energy cooperation under the CPEC, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Looking forward, Sayed said that more joint ventures are expected, focusing on localizing solar panel cells manufacturing in Pakistan. 

"Our way is to facilitate low-carbon investment from China into Pakistan, establish clear green investment criteria for Chinese investors, as well as ensure projects' financial viability, security, and profitability," he said, adding that Pakistan is eager to cooperate with and learn from China. 

Pakistan-China cooperation exemplifies people-centric cooperation between countries, Sayed said. "China has been prioritizing ecological and environmental protection as integral to human development, focusing more on improving people's living standards, which Pakistan views as a model for its modernization," he added.

In late May, China and Pakistan announced five new corridors for the second phase of CPEC construction, including the Innovation and Green Corridors, according to Pakistan media reports. Pakistani officials have vowed to attract more Chinese investment for joint ventures in renewable energy and modern agriculture projects.

Unlike Western models, China's economic growth is based on shared prosperity, extending mutual benefits to its partners, he said, highlighting this model's crucial role in reshaping the global landscape, while some Western countries' new Cold War mentality is overshadowing world peace and the rise of the Global South.

He criticized these countries' ongoing smear campaign against China as part of their containment strategy to hinder China's rise. They are also trying to create controversy around the BRI cooperation by labeling China's investments as placing debt traps. However, these attempts will fail, Sayed said.

The Global South is looking to China for leadership, as the future of the world economy is shifting toward the East, while the Western powers will seek confrontation to uphold their hegemony, he noted, urging the West to engage constructively with China in all potential areas, avoiding over-politicizing economic and trade issues.

Sayed is optimistic about China's growth prospects, noting despite external challenges, the Chinese economy remains resilient amid efforts for high-quality development. China's new development pattern of "dual circulation" will transform its economy into one driven by both domestic and international demand, promising a sustainable path of development, he said. 

Guangzhou subways display posters celebrating giant panda Mengmeng's newborn baby

The display in Guangzhou's metro system, featuring giant panda Mengmeng with the caption "I am now a mother" to celebrate the birth of her female cub on June 18, caught the attention of many Chinese netizens recently.

According to a video clip shared by netizens, some of the posters were decorated with a phrase "People passing by -- just to congratulate her!" Others featured a cartoon image of the baby panda, as well as photos of Mengmeng and the other giant panda Jiahe, with the words "We have a daughter now" displayed beside them.

Mengmeng is the eldest of the world's only living panda triplets, and had a cub after a 128-day pregnancy at the Guangzhou Chimelong Safari Park in the capital city of Guangdong Province, according to the park. 

Following the birth, the conservation team conducted daily physical examinations on the cub, meticulously documenting its growth data. The cub's white fur has grown on its pink skin, with black markings beginning to appear around its eyes, ears, shoulders, and limbs, as reported by the media.

As the sole female is among the world's only panda triplets, Mengmeng has always been in the spotlight and was previously selected for a national giant panda breeding program.

Brown bear whose head is stuck in a plastic bucket rescued in Qinghai Province

A recent video of a brown bear in Northwest China's Qinghai Province with its head stuck in a plastic bucket after trying to steal food from local herders attracted lots of attention, as both the bear and its rescuers quickly ran in opposite directions following a "tug-of-war" rescue.

According to media reports on Monday, local police and residents teamed up to rescue the brown bear by pulling the plastic bucket off its head with a rope. 

The local police chief said the rescue activity at the scene was done in a cautious way to ensure the safety of both people and the embattled bear.

The adult brown bear, which weighed more than 150 kilograms, appeared helpless at the time, crouching on the ground and occasionally trying to move the bucket out of the way with its paws, according to local media reports. Rescuers made several attempts and the process lasted more than 30 minutes.

The rescuers then stood three meters away from the bear and threw a rope over the bucket. Once the rope was securely in place, the police and herders began to pull and engage in a "tug-of-war" with the bear until they successfully removed the bucket.

Many netizens commented that it was clear from the video that both the bear and its rescuers were scared and nervous at the moment of rescue, worried that something unexpected might happen. 

According to an introduction from China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration, brown bears are listed under the second class of wildlife protection in China, which still have a high degree of aggressiveness.

A panorama of the future of Chinese society mirrored in proposals, motions in two sessions

Editor's Note:

The second session of the 14th National People's Congress (NPC) and the second session of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will conclude on March 11 and 10, respectively. The two sessions are a crucial window into China's whole-process people's democracy and will offer the world a window through which to observe the country's development and understand its policy direction for the following year.

The Global Times has initiated a series of articles under the theme "understanding China through motions and proposals." This article, the second installment of the series, glimpses into what kind of new social trends China is striving to create through the proposals and motions heatedly discussed in the two sessions.
A society that lightens burden for the young

During the two sessions, the well-known Chinese media personality Bai Yansong called for a more youth friendly society to help reduce their burdens, rather than blindly blaming younger generations for "ken lao" (or solely relying on parents). Bai's comments quickly won applause on the internet.

"Ken lao" has been a popular internet term in recent decades, describing a phenomenon of young people choosing to retreat to their homes and receive financial support from their families due to the competitive work environment.

China's 2024 Government Work Report pointed out to strengthen social security by reducing the burden of family planning, child-rearing, and education. Bai fully backs it, while calling for more reflection on how society could ramp up efforts to provide practical measures to reduce the burden on the younger generation.

From Bai's remarks, to motions calling for more affordable housing for young people; from proposals to including childcare in public services to empower young parents, from voices of lawmakers and political advisors to calls for more workplace off time for young employees … At this year's two sessions, issues that concern young people around employment, marriage and childbirth, housing, and healthcare have received attention from the public.

"China will improve the population development strategy, establish a policy system to boost birth rates, and bring down the costs of pregnancy and childbirth, child rearing and schooling," noted a Report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC. In 2024, many local governments have proposed that they will introduce more policies to boost birth rates.

According to the 2024 Report on Child-Rearing Costs released by YuWa Population Research think tank, raising a child to the age of 18 costs 6.3 times the per capita GDP. Financial pressure has also become a major killer for many young Chinese couples who are afraid to have children.

During the two sessions, many CPPCC National Committee members and NPC deputies have suggested integrating childcare services into the public service system.

Wu Ruijun, a member of CPPCC National Committee, pointed out that the childcare service institutions in China set a relatively high price, as they're often faced with high operational costs such as rent and labor expenses. NPC deputy Zhong Can further suggested that relevant policies should be established, providing free or low-cost venues for universal childcare services and thus reducing their operational costs to the minimum.

More policies that promote work-life balance have become a new highlight of this year's two sessions.

NPC deputy Huo Qigang suggested increasing the number of days off for young people, implementing a mandatory paid annual leave policy, and improving regulations on illegal practices by companies, because he believes that young Chinese people today have obviously short annual leave.

Similarly, political advisor Lü Guoquan from Hong Kong delegation proposed to enshrine the right to rest after work in law, and to increase the cost of illegal overtime work by companies to rectify the prevalent culture of overtime work.

Lü stated in a media interview that in the age of the internet, digital information technology has blurred the "boundaries" between work and life, with some employers still assigning work to employees remotely through platforms like WeChat after work hours, requiring them to respond to work-related messages and sacrificing their personal rest time.

Therefore, Lü suggested introducing relevant offline rest rights in labor laws and increasing the cost of illegal overtime work imposed by companies.

CPPCC National Committee member Jiang Shengnan called for reducing the burden on grass-roots workers in her proposal, reducing the cumbersome formalities in the workplace and avoiding wasting a large amount of time and energy on report filling and material writing. She suggested the effective use of big data platforms to coordinate and improve the efficiency of grass-roots work.

"We can tell from the two sessions that China places high hopes on the youth and intends to ease their burden. One keyword for this year's two sessions is the new quality productive forces, with young people being the mainstay. There are proposals and motions aiming to enhance the productivity of young people by reducing their burdens. For example, there is a proposal that technological workers should be free from tedious administrative work. The relevant measures and policies fully demonstrate the effectiveness of our socialist market economy system and reflect that the Party and the government do care for our young people," Su Wei, a professor from the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times.

A society driven by scientific, tech innovation

The 2024 Government Work Report says that innovative development of the digital economy will be promoted, an Artificial Intelligence Plus initiative will be launched, and the country will consolidate and enhance its leading position in industries such as intelligent connected new-energy vehicles.

This not only demonstrates China's ambition in the field of emerging technologies, but also reflects that artificial intelligence has become a new driving force for economic and social development. Artificial intelligence has also become one of the hottest topics during the two sessions.

NPC deputies and CPPCC National Committee members at the two sessions discussed the future development of the artificial intelligence industry from different perspectives, providing ideas for the future development of China's artificial intelligence industry.

Lei Jun, NPC deputy, also the founder of Chinese smartphone brand Xiaomi, proposed four motions, focusing on areas such as green and low-carbon, artificial intelligence, intelligent driving, and intelligent manufacturing.

In terms of artificial intelligence, Lei suggested to absorb artificial intelligence courses into the compulsory education stage, promoting artificial intelligence majors in universities, and encouraging large enterprises and training institutions to cultivate application-oriented talents in artificial intelligence.

Suggestions for the development of robots and intelligent manufacturing industry were also heatedly discussed in the two sessions. This year's key point "new quality productive forces" is also reflected on core element of technological innovation.

For example, China's robot industry is developing rapidly and is the world's largest consumer and producer of robots. High-end manufacturing plays an important role in China's economy. However, currently, more than 90 percent of robots used in high-end manufacturing are monopolized by foreign brands from developed Western countries.

In response to this, CPPCC National Committee member Sun Zhiqiang suggested that a national robot association should be established to create an innovative ecosystem for the robot industry that integrates technology, talent, platforms, finance, policies, and international cooperation, to promoting cross-sectoral coordination and achieve new quality productive forces.

Regional governments are also prioritizing innovation and emerging industries in their government reports this year. For instances, Central China's Anhui plans to become an innovation hub for quantum information, fusion energy and deep space exploration; while the city of Changsha in Central China is comprehensively building a global research and development center.

"Since the beginning of the reform and opening-up, the strategy for invigorating China through science and education has always been our focus. Today, only champions survive in the fierce global technological competition. That's why we are mobilizing the entire society to catch up with the new technological revolution," said Su.

A society that keeps high-level opening-up

In recent months, a series of measures have been implemented, sending a clear signal that China is steadfastly committed to expanding high-level opening-up to the outside world.

China introduced new immigration measures to encourage international travel to China; removed all restrictions on foreign investment in the manufacturing sector; issued "24 measures" to further optimize the foreign investment environment and has intensified efforts to attract foreign investment.

"One of the most core features of high-level opening-up to the outside world is institutional openness," Gu Xueming, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the media. He said that at this year's two sessions, how to steadily expand institutional openness in terms of rules, regulations, management and standards have attracted attention from the public.

Keywords such as new driving forces for foreign trade, cross-border e-commerce, supply chain, foreign investment, and institutional opening have frequently appeared in local government work reports and motions and proposals of delegates.

In last year's economic "report card," China's new energy vehicle production and sales accounted for over 60 percent of the global market share; exports of electric vehicles, lithium batteries, and photovoltaic products - the "new three items" - increased by nearly 30 percent.

In the eyes of NPC deputy Lin Zhiying, China has a massive consumer market that drives the global economy. China is cultivating new foreign trade momentum, strengthening global supply chain management, expanding overseas markets and investing overseas.

Su Wei believes that the motions and proposals delivered by NPC deputies and CPPCC National Committee members demonstrate the concerted efforts of the Party and the government to create a more friendly society, which can achieve the greatest possible convergence of interests.

"It's normal to encounter problems on the path of development. What matters is that we have the courage to face these problems and the methods to solve them. The motions and proposals are pooling people's wisdom, and bringing Chinese people together to forge ahead," said Su.

‘Chinese people are hospitable; so are we,’American Gen Zers recall journey in China, appeal for common ground and enduring friendship

Editor's Note:

The youth are the vanguards of our time, showcasing boundless energy and vibrant personalities.

Gen-Zers not only represent the makers of the future but also serve as agents of change in the present. With an open mindset and an international outlook, they actively integrate into the currents of globalization, engaging in deep exchanges, and collaborating with youth from around the world to explore pathways and strategies to address global challenges.

The Global Times has launched the "Voice from Gen Z" series, which focuses on the proactive actions and innovative achievements of young people in areas such as global governance, cultural exchange, environmental protection, and technological innovation. Through this column, we aim to showcase the unique charm and future leadership of global Gen-Zers.

"The youth of China and the US should continue to build strong friendships, improving their understanding of each other, and their countries. This will help lead citizens around the world to interact and communicate with each other." This sentiment was solemnly shared by 17-year-old Colin Millage from Muscatine High School from the US state of Iowa, as he returned to the country after an 8-day study tour in China in late April.

The study tour delegation is called "Inheritance of Friendship," which is part of a China-initiated program that invites 50,000 US youth to China within five years for exchanges and study. The delegation is the second batch from the school.

With all 32 members of Generation Z who came to China for the first time, they embarked on the journey with curiosity about China and a desire to fully embrace the country and its people. Touched by the sincere interactions between the people of China and the US, they are committed to carrying forward friendship in their own way.

Millage believes that their trip can serve as an example to young people, showing that friendships between countries can lead the world in the right direction toward peace and stability.

"We are the future. It's important for the youth all over the world to connect for a better future. I expect there will be many more exchanges between the two countries," Millage's fellow Skye Foster, a 10th-grade student, also shared with the Global Times.

'Beautiful first impression'

With the dazzling light effects, innovative stage design and imaginative program arrangement, the welcome performance titled "Chinese Impressions" by students from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on the evening of April 19 in Shijiazhuang, North China's Hebei Province, left a lasting impression on Millage.

"It gave me a beautiful first impression," Millage said, referring to the exquisite performance of his Chinese peers and the profound Chinese culture embedded in the program.

American Gen Zers are always eager to experience different cultures. For example, Foster noted she chose to participate in the school trip to China because she loved learning Chinese.

During the journey, the delegation visited Beijing, Hebei, and Shanghai. They wore traditional Hanfu, climbed the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City, and explored the Xiong'an New Area. They tasted traditional local cuisine, learned to pay for services using mobile phone QR codes, experiencing a real, comprehensive China that blends the classical and the modern.

In Millage's opinion, China is a country filled with deep culture and history. From the intricate architecture to the meaningful cultural practices, the country beautifully presents itself with an influential cultural identity.

"China is a very big country. There is so much to learn about China. There's so much to see and I had a great experience there," Foster said.

"Sending the second study tour delegation to China in such a short period of time shows how successful the first group's trip to China was," Ryan Scott Castle, principal of Muscatine High School, told the Global Times. He mentioned that many students who had previously visited China signed up again for the second research group and he had to use his authority as principal to "keep them in the US" because more and more students from Muscatine are eager to explore China.

"Before departure, I told the kids: As soon as the plane lands, put away your phones, absorb like a sponge, breathe in the air of China, enjoy the food of China, seize every opportunity to communicate with the people around you… Since you are in China, embrace it with your whole heart," said Luca Berrone, Chairman of the Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee, who accompanied the delegation to China.

To Berrone's relief, the teenagers did just that. Millage said he would tell all his family and friends that China should be their next vacation.

Millage noted that some media sources in the US made China out to be restrictive on some level, but he thought that mainly stems from the US' superiority complex about being "the most free country" when most other countries are also free.

"After being in China, I completely disagree with any portrayal of the country being restrictive… While some Americans may be cautious when visiting the country due to negatively preconceived notions, they should look past that and appreciate the beauty the country can offer," he stressed.

Exemplary tales of exchanges
Hebei Province and the Iowa State signed their sister-state relationship in 1983. For over 40 years, Hebei and Iowa have written many exemplary tales of friendly exchanges.

In the spring of 1985, Chinese President Xi Jinping, at that time a county leader in Zhengding, Hebei Province, took his initial steps on US soil. From then on, Xi never forgot his American friends and believes that people hold the key to state-to-state relations.

Now, this friendship is being further strengthened with new initiatives.

For Foster, her most memorable experience in China was going to her Chinese partner's home and spending more time with her.

As the host school for the US students, the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School requested students from China and the US to form one-on-one friendly partnerships. They studied Chinese poetry, played table tennis, and each US student also visited the home of his or her Chinese partner and had dinner together.

"The teachers were very kind and caring. The students were so welcoming and nice," Foster said.

More importantly, these young people from China and the US have the opportunity to sit together and listen to their elders tell stories of the sincere interactions between the two countries throughout history.

Berrone, who was involved in Xi's first visit to the US, still remembered the first dinner that the Hebei delegation led by Xi had in Iowa, which was a traditional American "potluck dinner," at which each family brought a dish to share.

The delegation immediately blended in with the local residents, Berrone recalled. "Meeting for the first time, local residents were also very excited and attracted to them, wanting to know more about Hebei and China," he said.

American Gen Zers also value the ties of friendship; they were encouraged by the stories of the elderly generation. "They taught me to cherish these bonds, especially cherish those with Chinese partners that span thousands of miles," Millage said. "American and Chinese people speak different languages and have different cultures, however, Chinese people are hospitable, and so are we."

During his trip to China, Millage and his friends exchanged their ideals and looked forward to becoming closer friends, growing together to become better individuals.

"Ultimately, both countries should look toward to these similarities to find common ground and build a stronger relationship," he said.