Since its inception in 2010, the Berggruen Institute has focused on partnerships and research in China to seek cross-cultural exchange in today’s changing world. Through the Berggruen Fellows Program and our 21st Century Council, the Institute’s collaborations with Chinese partners have included the Chinese Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy (CIIDS) and leading academic institutions such as Beijing University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University. With our increasing commitment to global dialogue, the Institute decided to form the China Center, a joint academic and policy research center with leading universities in Beijing to promote quality research on the transformational forces impacting humanity.
At the helm of the Berggruen Institute China Center is Song Bing. As Director, Song Bing is responsible for the strategy and overall development of Berggruen Institute China Center (established in September 2017), ranging from research programs, the institutional development of the Center, branding strategy, relationship management with partner organizations and other key stakeholders in China as well as China-based fellowship programs. Prior to joining Berggruen Institute, Song had a successful legal and banking career. Her more recent roles include General Manager of Goldman Sachs Gao Hua Securities as well as COO and General Counsel for Goldman Sachs China. Earlier in her career, she did legal and public policy research with the Singapore Institute of East Asian Studies and the Ford Foundation in Beijing.
The BI editorial team recently sat down with Song Bing to hear more about her new role and the activities of the Berggruen Institute China Center.
Q: Bing, thanks for joining us here today. Firstly, congratulations! This past September, you joined the Berggruen Institute as Director of its China Center. You are also part of our executive leadership team for the Institute, meaning that the Institute’s leadership is based in Los Angeles and Beijing. What did it mean for you to make this big step from Goldman Sachs and why is having a BI leadership base in China significant for the Institute?
A: Let me take a step back and look at the world we live in now. Rapid development of frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence and gene editing has brought, and will continue to bring, profound changes to the society we live in and indeed to our species. At the same time, the rise of China and shifting balance of power are altering the global system in a profound way we haven’t seen for hundreds of years. In other words, the world is in transition and humanity is also in transition. In times like these, we really need fresh ideas and innovative thinking to help address the grand challenges we face. What the Berggruen Institute attempts to do is precisely to help generate such ideas and thinking and provide a global platform for the exchanges of ideas between East and West. As a bilingual and bicultural person who cares deeply about these issues, I am convinced that I have much to contribute to this changing world. While working at Goldman Sachs has been fulfilling, BI on the other hand offers an opportunity for me to make more direct and meaningful contributions to the issues that matter most to all of us. I am excited about my own professional transition as well.
In addressing today’s challenges, it is important that we draw China into the global conversations and further still that we should value voices and perspectives from China and other non-Western traditions. It is not the least because of China’s increasing economic, military and diplomatic prowess, it is because the global community and humanity will benefit a great deal from voices and wisdom from non-Western traditions, which have been grossly under-represented in world affairs for several hundred years. For the global challenges of today’s magnitude and significance, we need wisdom from both East and West. I believe that line of thinking underlies the decision of BI’s founders to establish a BI China Center and to base the BI leadership both in the U.S. and China.
Q: You have directed the growth and development of the China Center, one that includes new staff and official partnerships. What can you tell us about these and your trajectory for growth?
A: The China Center, as a physical center, is less than six-months old and currently we have two full time staff in addition to myself and Professor Roger Ames, our academic director. In the past few months, we have formed partnerships with a few universities and research institutes in China. My hope, in the next few months, is to formally establish a joint research center with one of the leading universities in Beijing.
In three years’ time, my hope is for the Berggruen Institute to be recognized in China as the go-to global platform where fresh ideas and innovative thinking will be discussed in addressing the global challenges.
Q: At the Institute, our intellectual work delves into the unprecedented transformational forces impacting humanity whilst convening global leaders in technology, business and governance to come up with new ideas to shape our world. Can you tell us about China Center’s current programs and activities and how they may influence or enhance this work?
A: Consistent with the grand transformation themes set by the Institute, at the China Center we currently focus on two themes: one is frontier technologies and society and the other is global governance related, namely, Tianxia – an alternative theory of the world affairs.
Since the launch of the program on frontier technologies and society, we have conducted two high profile dialogues between top Artificial Intelligence (AI) scientists and top philosophers in China. Their discussions focused on the status of AI and robotics development in China and broader ethical, social and legal issues these developments have raised so far. We are one of the first organizations in China calling for and sponsoring close collaborations between scientists and philosophers as well as social scientists on issues relating to frontier technologies. In recognition of our pioneering work, BI China Center has been invited to co-sponsor (together with the China Science and Technology University) a sub-forum on AI applications and ethics in the upcoming AI industry conference sponsored by the China Association of Artificial Intelligence (CAAI), a government sponsored industry association. We have a series of domestic and international workshops and events planned in the coming years.
The second program focuses on the system of “tianxia,” a notion derived from the Chinese history and philosophy with a universal appeal for being a supplement or an alternative to the modern international relations system. Different from the modern nation-state centered international relations theory, Tianxia outlines a unitary worldview, which transcends the differences in communities, nation-states, race and ethnicity. The program will trace the philosophical and historical origins of this notion and examine its contemporary implications. BI China Center has already named Zhao Tingyang and Gan Chunsong, the two most well-known scholars on Tianxia as our fellows to help advance the program.
Q: Thank you. Lastly, now that the China Center is up and running, can you give us the kind of cultural collaborations or exchanges would you like to see take place over the next few years? A Berggruen Institute China Center Outlook, if you will.
A: I am excited about, and impressed by, the bilingual and bicultural vision of the BI as expressed by Nicolas Berggruen. With our efforts in the U.S. and China, I hope in a few years’ time BI can truly be the global platform where top thinkers from West and East can discuss and debate issues of global significance and bring out fresh ideas and innovative thinking for the changing world.