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Huntsman Hall is one of the main buildings for the Wharton School.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Organizers of the Penn Wharton China Summit are canceling this year’s summit in fear of spreading the coronavirus.

The summit, which annually attracts over 1,500 people, was scheduled to be held in Irvine Auditorium and The Annenberg Center from April 10 to 12. Hosted by the China Summit Foundation and the Penn Wharton China Center, the summit aims to promote communication and strengthen relationships between China and the United States.

College junior and summit Co-president Yiming Sang said the summit leaders decided to cancel the event last week over concerns of the health and safety of attendees. Sang also cited logistical problems with attendees facing travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Penn Wharton China Center Director and Marketing professor John Zhang said organizers were wary of bringing so many people from across the United States to Penn’s campus.

The majority of attendees at the student-run summit, which has been held on campus every year since 2016, are Chinese students attending universities across the United States, Sang said. Attendees at the 2016 summit hailed from four countries, 34 states, and over 70 cities.

Wharton sophomore and summit Co-president Mai Long added that 15 of the 40 guest speakers had already notified the summit leaders before its cancelation that they would be unable to attend the summit due to travel restrictions.

“It’s a huge event and we invite a lot of executives and dignitaries,” Zhang said. “All those executives said they’re not going to be able to come to the country, because either they cannot travel or when they get here they have to be quarantined for 14 days."

Travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government on Jan. 31 stipulate that any foreign national who has been in China less than 14 days prior to arriving in the United States is barred from entering the country.

Sang said the three keynote speakers would have been CEO of Forbes Media Steve Forbes, Founding Dean of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business Xiang Bing, and Edward Cox, the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon. Cox is also the former chairman of the New York Republican State Committee.

Zhang said the uncertainty over how the coronavirus will spread by April made it necessary for organizers to cancel the summit. He added that organizers decided to call off the summit sooner rather than later, as canceling the summit closer to the summit dates would prove more difficult.

"A lot of people in the organizing committee anticipated that it will be canceled given that the current [coronavirus] situation is quite serious," College first-year and summit operations team member Mark Li said.

Sang said the theme of the summit would have been “The Next Decade,” with six panel discussions on finance, technology, social responsibility, new retailing, culture, and international relations. Long added preparations for the summit by the team of 85 students began last October with the booking of Irvine Auditorium, The Annenberg Center, and hotels for guest speakers and audience members.

Summit leaders have advised China summit organizers at other universities to consider canceling or postponing their summits, Long added. He said the Harvard College China Forum is considering canceling their event in April. 

As of March 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified 99 cases of COVID-19, the current strain of coronavirus, in 13 states in the United States.

Li said although the summit has been canceled, the summit team is not too discouraged, as the spread of the coronavirus was an uncontrollable factor to the summit's operations.

“This is very unfortunate and our students have spent a lot of time to prepare for this, but at the end of the day, you can’t really fight against nature,” Zhang added.

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