Transcript of Mark Gearan News Briefing on U.S.-China Peace Corps Agreement

Office of the Press Secretary
(Beijing, People's Republic of China)
For Immediate Release June 29, 1998
Shangri-la Hotel Beijing, People's Republic of China
1:15 P.M. (Local Time)
MIKE MCCURRY: Let me explain what we're about right now. A major international summit, such as the one that we're participating in right now, obviously consists of the very important meetings that occur at the head of government level, that have occurred now between President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin, but the outcome of this summit ought to be measured in the substantive achievements across a range of things that reflect this very broad and expansive bilateral relationship.
When we—yesterday or, I guess on Saturday, after the meetings, we gave you a very lengthy fact sheet that spelled out some of the substantive achievements from this conference, but I'd like to take some of those out and look at them a little more carefully so you understand the depth of some of the substantive side of the engagement we now have with the People's Republic.
To that end, I've asked an old favorite of the White House Press Office, Mark Gearan, the Director of the Peace Corps, to be here to talk about the new country agreement that has been arranged between the United States and the People's Republic. Paul Gerwirtz, Professor Paul Gerwirtz from the U.S. State Department, who was appointed last year or earlier this year—he started last year as the Special Representative for the Presidential Rule of Law Initiative at the State Department, on leave from Yale University, the Beida of New Haven—and he will tell you a little bit more about some of the rule of law elements of the agreements reached between the two Presidents.
MARK GEARAN: Another key part of the summit this week will be an agreement that will be signed this afternoon between our government and the government of China to formalize an agreement to have the United States Peace Corps volunteers working here in China. We will have 44 Americans serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Sichuan Province, the most populous province within China.
This follows a five-year pilot phase that the Peace Corps has had. But today's agreement is important for the Peace Corps because it recognizes formally the presence of the Peace Corps volunteers and for the first time documents that into an agreement that will be signed by Ambassador Sasser and the Minister of Education today at 3:00 p.m.
The Peace Corps volunteers coming to China from all over the United States will teach English to students who are expected to become middle school English teachers in the rural areas of the province. The Peace Corps is particularly excited about today's agreement, of course, because it follows President Clinton's announcement in January where he seeks to increase the Peace Corps to 10,000 volunteers serving by the year 2000, which is a 50-percent increase in the number of Peace Corps volunteers worldwide.
The Peace Corps in the United States today is enjoying, if anything, a resurgence of interest with 10 percent more inquiries to our offices asking for opportunities to serve around the world. And with the presence of Peace Corps volunteers in China, we'll have more than 6,500 volunteers working around the world in 82 countries.
Any questions?
Q: Are there any restrictions on what these volunteers can do in China? Are they different or more harsh or more severe than in other countries?
GEARAN: No. At this point, our presence will be working in education as I said, but the Peace Corps work, of course, is field driven, responding to the needs in the countries that we work in at the local level. So we take information from our host country partners and work in partnership with them. Over the years, the history of the Peace Corps—nntry partners and work in partnership with them. Over the years, the history of the Peace Corps—now 37 years around the world—we've expanded into other areas, in environment and health, business, agriculture worldwide—it is not uncommon for the Peace Corps to start in education, as we are doing this year in Bangladesh and Mozambique, two other new countries for the Peace Corps this year.
Q: That five-year pilot—when was the first time Peace Corps people were in China, and how many were involved?
GEARAN: The five-year pilot program accounted for about 75 Peace Corps volunteers over the course of this time. It was without this formalized agreement, however. The significance of today's agreement is the formal recognition of the United States Peace Corps with the government of China.
Q: Does this mean you'll be able to expand the number of volunteers?
GEARAN: Yes. I think what's exciting for us at the Peace Corps, of course, is that we'll have the opportunity to look to more volunteers serving here. Twenty-one volunteers arrived last night to serve in China. And as we seek, through the President's initiative, to grow and expand the Peace Corps to 10,000 volunteers by the year 2000, we would similarly expect the opportunities in China and elsewhere around the world to grow as well.
Q: What is the total?
GEARAN: Forty-four is the total.
Q: Do the Chinese take a part in the selection of the volunteers?
GEARAN: No, the selection of the volunteers is done in the United States, where American supply to the Peace Corps and are invited to serve in a particular country based on their experience, based on their academic work, based on their field experience and their personal commitment to the jobs that they'll be asked to do.
Q: Will you be putting out a fact sheet here of where the volunteers are from that are coming in?
GEARAN: We can do that.
Q: Forgive me, I was outside answering a phone call. But will any of the volunteers be stationed in Tibet—GEARAN: No, they'll be working in Sichuan Province at this point.
Q: All of them.
GEARAN: That's correct.
Q: Well, how close to the Tibet border?
GEARAN: I'm not the best person to give you the geography on that, but we can get back to you, certainly, in terms of the logistics. But they'll all, at this point, be in Sichuan Province.
Q: Mark, does this agreement represent a change in attitude on the part of the Chinese government? I'm mean, you've had these volunteers here, but have they been sort of here on grants or has there been some resistance that is now not there any more?
GEARAN: Well, I suspect that's a question for the Chinese government to answer better than I. But I do think, speaking for the Peace Corps, certainly, it does reflect our interest to have the kind of person-to-person exchanges, similarly as our government-to-government has had important summit meetings this week.
I was struck at today's university speech that the first question from a student involved the kind of exchanges and what Americans can learn about the Chinese people, culture, and history. The genius of the Peace Corps, of course, is that it has so many Americans learning about so many other countries around the world who bring that experience back to the United States.
There have been more than 150,000 Americans who served as Peace Corps volunteers who come back to our own country with that perspective. So, through time, certainly, the opportunity that will be created today at the dawn of the new century is that it will allow for that many more Americans to learn more about the people, the culture, the history of China. And that's the kind of partnership that the Peace Corps is aiming to do today.
Q: Mark, what have those—you said there have been 45 since '93?
GEARAN: No, I'm sorry, there have been about 75.
Q: Seventy-five. What have they been doing? Education?
GEARAN: That's correct—will be working in education.
Q: And they've all gone back now?
GEARAN: MARAN: That's correct—will be working in education.
Q: And they've all gone back now?
GEARAN: Most of them have. A few have another year or so of service, but most of them are returning to the United States.
Q: And where were they?
GEARAN: In Sichuan Province. The pilot phase of the Peace Corps in the past few years has exclusively been there. The new Peace Corps volunteers arriving last night will also go there. Through time, and through the years coming up, we would expect the opportunity for more Americans to serve and to look to a regional focus beyond that Province.
Q: Was that the first presence in China?
Thank you."}

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