Let the dealmaking begin

SALT LAKE CITY – In an innovative approach designed to strengthen relations between the world’s two largest economies, officials from China and the US local governments will gather at the first China-US Governors Forum Friday to explore new opportunities in trade, culture and education exchanges.

The forum, co-convened by the US National Governors Association (NGA) and the Chinese People’s Associations for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), was one of the major achievements during President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States in January.

The 100-member Chinese delegation is led by Zhejiang provincial Party Secretary Zhao Hongzhu, Anhui Governor Wang Sanyun, Yunnan Governor Qin Guangrong, Qinghai Governor Luo Huining and CPAFFC Vice-President Li Xiaolin.

Held in conjunction with the NGA Summer Meeting, government officials and business leaders from the four Chinese provinces will join with more than 30 US governors to discuss the potential cooperation in bilateral trade and investment, new energy, environmental protection, education and student exchanges.

Dozens of cooperation agreements are expected to be signed at the forum, which concludes on Sunday.

The venture comes at a time when US governors, who have recently had to slash their state budgets because of declining revenue, are eager to attract investment and create jobs while their Chinese counterparts are also enthusiastic about expanding local trade overseas.

At least eight governors and numerous other officials from US cities led trade delegations to China last year, representing California, Delaware, Washington, Georgia and Texas, according to the US State Department.

Accordingly, more than 100 visits by various Chinese provincial officials were made to the US.

In addition to the wealthy coastal provinces that have a long history and ample experience in international trade and exchange, leaders from less developed regions in central and western China are now making up ground.

Cheng Xiaohe, a scholar with the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, noticed that the choice of China’s four provinces is the result of careful consideration.

East China’s Zhejiang province is one of the richest regions in the country with a strong export and import sector. In 2010, it ranked fourth in the country in terms of GDP and per capita GDP.

To its northwest is Anhui province, which still relies heavily on agriculture and has lagged neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu with a GDP per capita around one-third the level of those two provinces.

Southwest China’s Yunnan and Northwest China’s Qinghai are at the bottom of the country’s economic development, but both boast rich natural resources and beautiful scenery.

“The diversified regions can provide different opportunities for US governors,” Cheng said.

China is the largest export market for American goods outside North America. In 2010, American exports to China, including Hong Kong, reached $118 billion, and many states are now more reliant on China.

California, Washington and Texas lead other states in terms of export volume to China in 2010, according to the latest US-China Business Council (USCBC) report. Oregon has seen its exports to China jump 1,227 percent and total about $4 billion last year.

But as China is starting to spend more money worldwide, Chinese direct investment in the US is still small compared with that in other countries due to the political culture in the US and public worry over national security.

Zhou Qi, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said with more US local governments benefiting from the trade with China, the public perception about Chinese investment may change.

“Communication among local governments has always been a vital force in the China-US relationship,” Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy to the US, told reporters.

So far, there are more than 36 sister provinces and states, and 165 pairs of sister cities.

“Their extensive cooperation and exchange not only makes a positive contribution to the local economies but greatly promotes the bilateral ties between the two countries,” he said.

As Beijing and Washington are trying to establish a cooperative partnership with mutual respect and benefits, “more space and opportunities are out there for the local governments”, he said.

At the invitation of CPAFFC, NGA will organize a governors’ delegation to visit China later this year and both sides plan to make the forum an annual event.

Reta Jo Lewis, the State Department’s special representative for global intergovernmental affairs, said as the US and China continue to build stronger government-to-government ties, the forum shows “there is a growing awareness in both countries that increased cooperation at the subnational level will strengthen our bilateral relationship and benefit both our countries.”

Li Aoxue in Beijing contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily

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