Watkins: Snyder builds a bridge to China #Snyder #BridgeToChina #TellUsDetroit


Op-Ed by Tom Watkins/Tell Us Detroit

CHENGDU, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA – I first visited China in April, 1989. At the same time it seemed familiar, it was also foreign territory for me. I had devoured any book I could get my hands on about China for decades before my first touchdown in this ancient land. The landscape, on multiple levels, has changed drastically in the intervening decades.
My interest in the Chinese people, their culture and history, was sparked by an unforgettable fourth grade teacher – a spark that led to a lifetime pursuit of all things China, attempting to understand, this seemingly enigmatic country.

Having crisscrossed the county in the intervening years, I have been fortunate to experience the rebirth of China up-close and personal – learning from ordinary Chinese citizens, students, scholars, and business and government officials.

I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in China, first standing in Tiananmen Square with students for three nights in 1989, as they called for the end of corruption and greater freedom and democracy. Traveling to Tibet and Xinjiang, I heard first hand about the persecution of these minority Tibetan and Uighur people and hearing tales of how the Falun Gong have been banned, harassed and worse. At home I hear about currency manipulation, unfair trade, loss of U.S. jobs to China, theft of intellectual property, and cyber attacks from politicians with greater intensity as elections near.

I have also witnessed China making great strides since Deng Xiaoping opened the country to the world post-Mao.

From the bland sameness of blue-collared Mao suits to ultra-fashionable luxury items, 400 million people have risen from abject poverty to the middle class, growing the land of the flying pigeon bicycles to the biggest auto market in the world. From donkey carts to bullet trains and from poverty stricken to world class cities – that’s China.

In attempting to build economic, cultural, and educational bridges with China, I have been criticized with McCarthy-like zeal by some as a “Red sympathizer,” “a commie”, and worse.

In this 21st century, we can and should protest some actions by their government – even as we engage the Chinese people in educational and cultural exchanges, trade, and investments.

We would be wise to follow the advice of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, soon to be President Xi, who encouraged people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between China and the United States when welcoming delegation headed by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad. “People-to-people exchanges form a significant foundation to boost the China-U.S. cooperation, and also an important part of establishing a new type of relationship between China and the United States,” Xi said.

To ignore or ostracize one-fifth of all humanity – the fastest growing large economy with a growing military from whom the U.S. has borrowed in excess of $1 trillion dollars to underwrite our debt – is not a sensible policy option.

Governor Snyder is reversing years of Michigan playing “Peking Duck” with China, traveling there in his first 6 month in office.

He plans follow-up visits later this year to develop the necessary relationships to assure China rise does not come at Michigan’s demise. He has worked to get the state’s budget in order, business fundamentals right and dubbed himself, “the most immigrant friendly governor in America.” These actions bode well for attracting foreign direct investment to Michigan and helping to sell our goods around the globe.

Michiganders need no reminding that we are two beautiful peninsulas – not an island in the world economy. Let’s innovate to build bridges to expanding markets like China in order to compete and remain relevant on the world stage. When it comes to China, we have the option of building bridges or digging moats. Michigan has much to offer the rising Chinese middle class – 1.3 billion new global consumers. Today China is our third largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico with tremendous opportunity for growth.

All these are lessons based on what I learned beginning with great fourth grade teacher many years ago. These are important lessons for us all to learn.

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He is the 2012 Chinese Association of Greater Detroit Lifetime leadership Awardee for his efforts to build cultural, educational and economic bridges to China. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant and can be reached at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com.






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