2016 Jefferson Fellowships

Theme:  The Future of Growth in Asia Pacific
Destinations: Honolulu, Hawaii; Beijing & Guiyang, China; Fukuoka, Kitakyushu and Tokyo, Japan

Dates: April 30-May 22, 2016

Over the past half century, the Asia-Pacific region has been in the forefront of global growth. But now there are uncertainties about the longer-term economic future of the region. There are questions about where growth will come from and how countries can achieve it. While countries across the region have somewhat different sets of concerns, some common challenges include population aging, increased labor costs and a loss of competitive advantage, reduced overseas demand, a need for more inclusive prosperity, serious resource and environmental problems, and the imperative of climate change.

The 2016 Jefferson Fellowships focused on Asia’s search for new, more sustainable growth models through sessions with experts and one another in Honolulu and by exploring economic challenges and restructuring in Japan and China. As the world’s 2nd and 3rd largest economies, the success of China and Japan in finding new models will have wide reaching impacts. After decades of rapid growth, China’s overall growth is falling, internal debt is rising and China fears falling into the middle income trap, getting old before it gets rich. Through travel to Beijing and Guiyang, capital of China's 2nd poorest province, the journalists explored China’s efforts to maintain its growth as it shifts to a new model based more on domestic demand versus government investment, higher value-added manufacturing, and a dynamic service sector, while also addressing dire environmental degradation and the need for a broader distribution of wealth. In Japan, the economy has been in near stagnation for 20 years. It also is in the vanguard of population aging with the world’s oldest society. Meetings and visits in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka and Tokyo explored Prime Minister Abe’s structural reform measures intended to boost the economy out of persistent deflation--especially, greater female and elder labor market participation, opening to foreign workers, investments in innovative robotics, advancements in elder care, spurring entrepreneurship, expanding tourism and regional revitalization. The journalists also learned how regional relationships, trade, and the political and geo-strategic issues in the Asia Pacific region affect economic cooperation, development and growth.

It was an ambitious and wide-ranging program that sought to tie together the ways that the region’s two largest and most important economies are dealing with the challenges of environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive growth as their populations age and societies change. The journalists found the theme to be extremely relevant. As one journalist noted in his evaluation, “These are two of the great themes in Asia right now and we looked at them through a number of different lenses in a number of different ways.”

The Honolulu program was designed to provide journalists with background information about the theme, US perspectives and an opportunity to learn from each other.  Sessions covered an overview of growth challenges for Asia Pacific, the Transpacific Partnership, implications of population aging, security threats, China’s economic transition and Japan’s economic development story. Mark Glick of Hawaii’s State Energy Office shared Hawaii’s experience in trying to maintain growth while shifting its energy mix to be 100% renewable by 2045. A meeting with Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery at Pacific Command provided an enlightening overview of US perspectives on the security challenges of the region and the US role.

In Beijing, the journalists appreciated the access to high level officials and academics representing government views. A highlight of the program was a 90-mimute engagement in English with Wang Xining, Deputy Director-General of the Information Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who responded to questions on a wide range of topics from the South China Sea to the China-Pakistan  Economic Corridor to the US Presidential election. Journalists gained insights into China’s aging population, economic transformation, one belt one road regional development plans, and ecological and environmental measures. On this latter topic, they heard from academics, officials and business leaders, who are leading China’s efforts to clean its water, use energy more efficiently, incorporate solar and wind, and improve technologies to burn coal cleanly and make use of low grade coal products. They also got a sense of how China sees itself in the world, and its vision for its future role in the region. An excursion to the Great Wall and an engagement with East-West Center alumni rounded out the program with exposure to the culture and networking with Chinese from a wide range of fields.

In Guiyang, capital city of China’s second poorest but fastest growing province, journalists had a chance to see the future of growth. It was not what they expected. Even the Chinese journalist was surprised by the amount of development—a glimmering city with neon lights, high-end shops, and beautiful new roads, toll booths and other infrastructure extending for hundreds of miles outside of the city. Construction cranes everywhere and literally hundreds of new high rise apartment buildings going up in every direction made the journalists wonder if all of it was real. The city is striving to become a hub of cloud computing and to try to leapfrog past China’s export manufacturing phase of development directly to a more ecological, high tech model of economic advancement and job creation. An issue for Guiyang is providing economic opportunity for its many isolated ethnic minority populations while also allowing them to maintain their culture and identity. One strategy is to build roads to their remote villages to facilitate tourism. The journalists traveled to an ethnic minority village outside Kaili, four hours south of Guiying, on brand new roads. The village showed how poor these isolated people are, but also how beautiful and exotic their culture. China hopes tourism can help them hold on to these traditions while lifting themselves out of poverty.

In Kitakyushu, the journalists learned the city’s story of lifting itself out of dire pollution while still maintaining its industries in a unique movement led by women and done with community, government and businesses working together. Now known as the “Kitakyushu Model,” the city’s strategy is being exported around the globe to help newly developing cities avoid the mistakes of its past, and reclaim their own rivers, oceans, air and land from pollution. The journalists visited the environment museum documenting the history of this transition and the Asia Center for Green Growth which is working to export this model. They met with some of the women activists from this movement, met with the deputy mayor, and visited a pilot project to use smart metering to improve efficiency and hydrogen by-products from steel-making for energy. They also visited the iconic Toto, one of Kitakyushu’s most well-known local businesses.

Fukuoka is known as a showcase for “Abenomics” with a progressive mayor trying to instigate many of Abe’s reforms. With tourism becoming an increasingly large part of the economy, the city sees an openness to foreigners as a key to its economic future. The journalists visited the port, which the city has expanded four fold over the past few years to accommodate increasing numbers of cruise ships from Korea and China. They are prioritizing start-ups and encouraging foreigners to come to Japan to start companies with a brand new “start-up visa” initiated in January 2016, and a start-up café which provides English speaking lawyers and other consultants to help foreigners wade through the bureaucracy to set up their businesses. The journalists met the mayor to hear his vision, visited the start-up café and met with the first foreigner visa recipients and other Japanese entrepreneurs. The journalists also appreciated the opportunity to have an informal meeting with working mothers to learn more about the challenges for Abe’s efforts to promote more women in the workforce. 

The Tokyo program was incredibly busy, but provided top to bottom perspectives on Japan’s development from an engagement with the homeless to a meeting with then MP Yuriko Koike, who recently became the first female Governor of Tokyo. The journalists accompanied a local NPO in providing food and services for the homeless and visited a child care center and nursing home to meet with elders who are experimenting with “second life employment” as part of Japan’s efforts to deal with its aging population. They met with Japan’s premier robot scientist and tried out his new “muscle suit” designed to help caregivers with the job of heavy lifting. They engaged with a group of college students who shared their perspectives on the social changes taking place in Japan. High quality academics and analysts also were a highlight of the Tokyo program, including globally recognized experts in energy, social change and poverty. A round table with business leaders provided valuable insights into Japan’s economy and what needs to be done to maintain growth and increase productivity and innovation in the face of population decline and rapid globalization. Finally, engagements with the former MP and now Governor Yuriko Koike, and a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided valuable access to high level officials.

The 2016 Jefferson Fellows have thus far written, published, or produced 26 stories for print and television that are directly related to their Fellowship experience and contacts. The program provided the journalists with exposure to more than 230 distinct contacts in 6 cities in the form of speakers and interlocutors, reception and networking events and other engagements. They include academics and officials who speak English and can be expert references in future stories; students, working mothers and other “first-hand people-perspectives;” and alumni and other contacts from a wide range of backgrounds who can help facilitate future visits or make connections within their networks for certain stories. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian at Foreign Policy recently used these contacts for a story about women in Japan for which she tapped Yuriko Koike, the MP and new Tokyo Governor as well as one of East-West Center’s alumni, an aspiring female political leader struggling to work her way up the ranks in Japanese politics.

Journalists appreciated the breadth and depth of the program and the value of the program in changing their outlooks and perspectives. One journalist wrote, “Being able to see what is going on in China and Japan with my own eyes and to be able to talk directly with people involved in trying to move on them will allow my reports on these issues specifically and more general stories about these countries to be far more nuanced.” A US journalist felt the program deepened understanding in a way that will help future coverage avoid assumptions and stereotypes, “The Jefferson Fellowship enabled us to really get a feel for the issues of concern of Asia by immersing us in to the cultures of the respective cities we visited while providing us with social, political, and economic insights from experts on a broad range of topics to help us form a 360 degree view on the topics pertaining to the future growth in Asia Pacific.” For another American journalist, it was the first visit to Asia, “[the Fellowship] was an absolute delight. As long as I am a journalist, I’ll draw on the information, impressions and relationships I formed during the trip. I got the overview of the region I was hoping to get—Asia 101. This will let me orient and understand what I learn in the future too. That was the most important thing to me.”

As much as the study tour experience, the journalists also value the engagement with fellow Fellows. These interactions provide learning about countries and topics that aren't even covered in the Fellowship program. One journalist noted, “The most important aspect of the study tour section was that it allowed the fellows to meet each other and understand a little more about the issues in other countries. It can be easy to forget that there are many ways to view a story. For example, I personally did not think of how the South China Sea debate plays out in Taiwan until this program.”


The Jefferson Fellowships are supported by a grant from The Freeman Foundation and by the East-West Center. The 2016 program also was supported by: The Mary Morgan Hewett Fund, Asia New Zealand Foundation, US Embassy Port Moresby, US Embassy Canberra, US Embassy Jakarta, The News International and cost sharing from many media outlets across the Asia Pacific and the US.

The 2016 Jefferson Fellows were:

  • Mr. Syed Asif ALI, Assistant Editor, The News International, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Ms. Bethany ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN, Assistant Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine, Washington, DC, USA
  • Ms. Azadeh ANSARI, International News Editor, CNN International, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Mr. Nishant DAHIYA, Asia Editor, National Public Radio, Washington, DC, USA
  • Mr. Carter DOUGHERTY, Senior International Economics Writer, International Business Times, New York City, New York, USA
  • Mr. Nirmal GHOSH, Indochina Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Ms. Samantha HAYES, Senior Presenter and Reporter, Newshub, Mediaworks Ltd (TV3), Auckland, New Zealand
  • Ms. Sheradyn HOLDERHEAD, Political Reporter, News Corp Australia – The Advertiser and Sunday Mail, Adelaide, Australia
  • Mr. Yophiandi KURNIAWAN, News Producer, Kompas TV, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Ms. Kwangyin LIU, Senior Reporter, CommonWealth Magazine, Taipei City, Taiwan
  • Mr. Ishkandar RAZAK, Journalist, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Melbourne, Australia
  • Ms. Xiaojing XING, Chief Correspondent, Global Times, Beijing, China
  • Mrs. Helen TARAWA-REI, Senior Journalist/Reporter, The National Newspaper, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
  • Mr. Pradeep THAKUR, Senior Assistant Editor, The Times of India, New Delhi, India