The Chicago visit last week by Chinese President Hu Jintao was a game-changing event for both Chicago and the Midwest. To assess the impact, we’re delighted to present this guest posting by The Honorable Bob Holden, former governor of Missouri and chairman of the Midwest U.S.-China Association, which works with Midwestern governors to spur trade and investment between China and the Midwestern states. Bob Holden was Missouri governor from 2001 to 2005 and used his tenure to increase that state’s economic development. He is now chairman of The Holden Group, LLC, consulting on international trade strategies, and leads the Holden Public Policy Forum at Webster University.
by Former Governor Bob Holden, Chair, Midwest U.S.-China Association and Founder and Director, The Holden Policy Forum, Webster University
Chinese President Hu Jintao’s official visit to the U.S. last week was a tremendous step forward for the Obama Administration, U.S. business and commercial interests, and most importantly a major triumph for the Midwest as a region. In President Hu’s first-ever trip to Chicago, the Windy City demonstrated that Chicago is truly an international city and that the Midwest is open for business.
Last Friday, the 493 member Chinese delegation, led by Commerce Minister Chen Deming, was welcomed at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs by a contingent of U.S. government and business executives from around the region. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency Director Leocadia Zak were just a few of the political big guns that graced the stage of last week’s program. Their presence not only illustrated the gravitas of the visit, but each one of their comments focused on building relationships, trust, mutual respect, and mutual benefit.
Throughout the program, new relationships were forged and existing relationships were nurtured. In light of the $19 billion order secured by Boeing earlier in the week, dozens of corporations signed contracts during the function in Chicago, setting the tone for future deals and cooperation. Being the second biggest trade partner of the United States, it is clear that China views the Midwest as a new market to foster this positive trade relationship. We are home to 143 of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies and 21% of the population. In addition to those tremendous business assets, our transportation infrastructure is one that is coveted by the rest of the nation. Our reserves of fresh water in the Great Lakes, our tremendous outputs of grain and other agricultural products and our first rate educational institutions present a very attractive package for Chinese interests across multiple industries.
As President Hu summated in his remarks, "Boeing, Motorola, Caterpillar, McDonald's, and many other Midwestern companies have become household names in China." We need to see ourselves more as the Chinese see us, as a region of international corporations that have permeated the globe and the hearts of the Chinese people. Our history, values, companies, and culture can be easily transplanted across the world. We can continue to do so by making a concerted effort to act as a region and leverage our combined strength.
But most important for the Midwest was the resounding fact that Hu’s visit to Chicago was his only stop outside of Washington, D.C. Symbolically, this attention from the Chinese puts our region on the same footing as the East Coast and the West Coast. Often called the nation’s “fly-over” region, we showcased our 12-state Midwest as an area for business and investment, full of willing partners. The fact that the Chinese recognize this 12-state region as a cohesive unit has incalculable value. It is clear they recognize the Midwest having limitless potential. Our Midwestern history, rooted in both agriculture and manufacturing, parallels China’s very closely.
Last week’s program truly opened a new chapter of China-U.S. cooperation. It was a breath of fresh air and a renewed attitude of progress for a region sometimes trying to slow down the effects of globalization. The Midwest United States offers unparalleled capacity for innovation, cultural exchange, and economic growth.
We need to focus on telling this region’s compelling story in today’s global economy. If we can all recognize that by collaborating as a region, we can expand our opportunities and more effectively achieve our goals. If we understand the importance of relationships, strive to be good partners, and think regionally, then the outlook for Midwest U.S.-Chinese relations has no boundaries.
To view news coverage of the Chinese delegation's trip, visit the Global Midwest Web site.