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CHINA Town Hall: Kunming

Following the insightful discussions at the 2023 CHINA Town Hall event in Beijing on October 12, the Kunming Liya Center, a satellite site of The Beijing Center (TBC) and a partner venue of the 2023 CHINA Town Hall, organized an in-person discussion on October 20. The participants from the U.S., France, and the U.K. represented various fields, including medicine, business, self-media, and public welfare. After watching the interview with the U.S. Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, TBC’s Executive Director, Simon Koo, led the discussion on the theme of “What Changes Are Needed to Adapt to Life and Work in Kunming after the Pandemic.” 

The participants raised the concerns about the significant decline in Kunming’s foreign population post-pandemic, primarily due to China’s strict epidemic prevention policies and local development constraints during the pandemic. “The city feels a lot emptier,” one participant noted. This absence of foreigners left a void in the city’s cultural vibrancy, setting it apart from more diverse and international hubs like Shanghai and Beijing. Participants proposed creating dedicated communities for Kunming’s expat population. “We do have international communities in Kunming, primarily Southeast Asian, with a significant Thai and Vietnamese presence. However, the Western community, especially English-speaking expats, has significantly shrunk,” another participant explained. They believed these communities would facilitate regular interaction and mutual support, providing opportunities for foreigners to engage with local residents and fellow expats. 

Additionally, participants highlighted that many activities were restricted during the pandemic. Even the Kunming Liya Center adapted to host smaller gatherings, discussions, and classes. While hosting large events might be challenging, it was clear that accommodating smaller groups for discussions and conversations, similar to the CHINA Town Hall event, could be instrumental in fostering understanding and unity. This approach aimed to expand social networks, enhance leisure activities, and bring together people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Simon concluded the event by sharing his vision for community building. “We established this satellite site in Kunming because we aspire to build a community here. Simply renting a space would not fulfill our mission. Our goal is to serve as a bridge that promotes greater understanding and unity among different cultures, ensuring that Kunming continues to thrive as a diverse and inclusive city.”