I've been struck over the last 10 years at how substantive understandings between nations have failed to keep pace with our abilities to communicate through the internet, global media and increasing levels of travel.
My perspective on this paradox dates back to Blackstone's 2007 initial public offering. China's sovereign wealth fund became a significant investor in my company, and I was invited to join the Board of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. This was really an invitation to get to know China.
Virtually everyone I knew in 2007 agreed that China had become a critical player on the world's stage. However, few people had a deep understanding of the complex cultural values and traditions that underpin that nation's business, political and everyday life. While my frequent visits and the relationships I built in China deepened my own understanding, I became more aware of and concerned about broad cultural gaps.
Watch: "A Billionaire's Bet: The Best and the Brightest," on CNBC on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT about the Schwarzman Scholars program in Beijing aimed at grooming future leaders.
As China continues to expand its economic and international influence, this lack of cross-cultural understanding could have tragic consequences. Harvard Professor Graham Allison has articulated an idea known as the "Thucydides Trap." It states that, through history, the rise of an emerging power very often creates fear and anxiety among established powers, which can (in the worst-case scenario) lead to war.
Schwarzman Scholars was designed to help defuse those tensions and create a more peaceful world. Each year, it brings up to 200 of the world's most promising students from countries around the world to study in Beijing at Tsinghua University. By exposing those future leaders to China and each other, it is our hope that they can then go back to their home countries and help interpret what is happening in China in a more nuanced and thoughtful way.
The journey to create such an ambitious program was anything but easy. It was a six-year effort involving teams in New York and Beijing. We were half-a-world and 12 time zones away, attempting to create an international program without precedent in a country with a different language and culture from our own. When we started, we had no curriculum, no faculty, and no selection process for the scholars. We didn't even have a building to house the program.