The Cecil Rhodes of China

The Cecil Rhodes of China

In his lifetime Cecil Rhodes made a fortune from diamonds. But he is better remembered for bequeathing a chunk of his wealth to endow the Rhodes Scholarship in 1902, with the goal of bringing the world’s top overseas students to study at Oxford University (usually for two years). Since inception, around 7,000 foreign students have experienced Oxford’s dreaming spires thanks to Rhodes’ largesse (including former US president, Bill Clinton).

One American who didn’t cross the Atlantic was Steve Schwarzman. According to the New York Times, Schwarzman applied for a Rhodes Scholarship in 1969 while at Yale, but failed to get one. Now, it appears, he is doing the next best thing. The Blackstone founder and billionaire has created his own Rhodes-style scholarship. But this time it is to send talented foreign students to Tsinghua University in China. Schwarzman has put $100 million of his own fortune into the scheme and secured a further $100 million from corporates. He thinks he can raise another $100 million within six months.

Schwarzman says his purpose is to “foster a win-win relationship of mutual respect” between China and the West. He reckons the West must develop a more “nuanced” understanding of China in the coming decades and that the new Tsinghua scholars should be well placed to “interpret what’s happening in China and maybe even influence behaviour”. The private equity tycoon says there will around 10,000 students sent to China within “a lifetime” and if well chosen, there could even be future US president among them.

Should that be the case, “we can really make a difference,” says Schwarzman. The scheme’s advisory board is certainly full of political heavyweights, numbering Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger.

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