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Windstorm Shaking the World

Oct 20, 2017 by

Tom Watkins –

Travel has a way of opening the heart, mind, and senses. Once again, my senses have been re-awakened by travel in China these last 3 weeks to Beijing, Tianjin, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Dali, Kumin, Tengchong, Heshun, Taizhou, Nantong, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai.

All of these Chinese cities make Detroit seem like a small village in terms of population. With the exception of Beijing and Shanghai, I’ll be willing to bet that few Americans have heard of these great cities. Beijing, alone – China’s capital – boasts 21 million population. Shanghai? Well over 25 and pushing 30 million people in the next several years.

The Future

My 2017 travel to China was built around my consulting work as well as my love, appreciation, and wonder for all things China. There is tremendous interest in China to find ways to connect with Michigan. One Michigan company with a hot product that the Chinese want is WAY – Widening Advancements for Youth (

The WAY Program is a personalized learning experience for all students, offering an innovative approach to education utilizing state of the art technology and project-based learning in alignment with state and national content standards. WAY is facilitating learning experiences that encourage self-esteem, independence, and the development of 21st-century skills, guiding students to a college education and subsequent career paths. The program has the ability to offer a US diploma for international students who complete their innovative program as well as earning college credit.

Wayne State, Michigan State,  and U of M all have deep and rich partnerships in China. I enjoyed visiting with Peisen Huang, Ph.D., Dean and professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute and his colleagues while in Shanghai.

The Joint Institute was founded in 2006 and represents a strategic global partnership between the two top universities in US and China, University of Michigan (UM) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). The Chinese Government and both partner universities are fully committed to develop JI as a world-class institute for engineering education.

Education Partnerships — Building Bridges to the Future

We need more of these types of connections at universities, community colleges and K-12 schools.

I have made multiple trips to China since my first exposure to the country in 1989. That trip, what I thought would be a once in a lifetime experience, merely became an appetizer for the entrée – feeding my curiosity, interest, and desire to assure that America builds lasting bridges with the Chinese people around education, culture, and economic opportunities.

There is no more urgent need than for Americans to grasp the enormity of China’s rise. Napoleon, once quoted as saying, “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”, was prescient in his foreseeing the China of today – a countrywide awake and a world power. How can we as a country open the eyes of our young citizens, adults, and leaders to see the strengths, threats, and opportunities that China presents?

At the turn of the century, National Geographic reported that Americans were ignorant about all things Asia, especially China. Sadly, while there has been progress, we are woefully uninformed about a nation that is home to one-fifth of all humanity (1.4 billion), a country with the fastest-growing economy in the world, one that is technologically-advanced, confident, and nationalistic, China has moved more people out of abject poverty into a middle class over the past 30 years than the US has people.

Local Farmer selling his pigs

Clearly there are issues our national leaders need to be on alert to and work the leadership counterparts in China: free and fair trade, currency manipulation, cyber-spying, intellectual property theft, climate change, maintaining free navigation in the vital sea lanes, human rights, North Korea and Iran, to name a few.

Yet on the subnational level (, our focus should be on connections that add mutual benefit to parties on either side of the ocean that produce win-win results.

China Progress

The progress China has made in three decades is remarkable. Many Chinese’s great-grandparents, grandparents and parents sacrificed a great deal to help create today’s “China Dream.” The Communist revolution, driving Japan out of their country, Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the devastation of the Cultural Revolution are just a few of the hardships Chinese people endured during the past century.

Today, China is indeed a rags-to-riches story for many – from the drab, sameness of 1960s Mao Suits, to 21st-century designer clothing, young people are now able to afford fashionably ripped jeans and designer shoes. From no choice sameness to choosing ripped cloths as a fashion statement -considerable progress!

Education and Youth- China’s Future

To grasp the scope of change and progress for average Chinese citizens view the Five charts about the fortunes of the Chinese family produced by the BBC:

Many thought that as China opened its doors to the Western world and experimented with capitalism in the 80’s and 90’s, that democracy was sure to follow. But as The Economist magazine points out, China’s President Xi Jinping leads a dominant engine of global growth, Chinese style – the Party determines what will be on full display to the world. On October 18th, 2017, China’s ruling Communist Party will convene their 5-year Congress in Beijing, the first one presided over by President Xi. (

President Xi’s and his Communist Party’s grip on power seems firmer today than ever. As long as the lives of average citizens continue to improve and as the Chinese watch chaos unfolding in other areas around the globe, the Communist Party has little to fear.

The BBC lays out a powerful story of President Xi’s and China’s rise to power in “The Thoughts of Chairman Xi.

In the nearly 30 years I have been traveling to China, there is no question that the lives of the average Chinese citizens are remarkably improved. Seeing China then and now is as though a movie started in black & white and suddenly switched to Technicolor with surround sound – the change is that dramatic.

In many ways, China is more advanced than the US with modern rail stations and bullet trains, smooth roads, robust electric and other non-combustible engines. The drive toward sustainable energy and technology permeates the most rural areas of the country.

China has surpassed the US in infrastructure investment

The Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway (or Jinghu High-Speed Railway from its Chinese name) is an 819- mile long high-speed railway that connects the two major economic zones in China. This super fast train from Shanghai to Beijing is a 4-hour long comfortable glide between distant city centers: a great way to travel and see more of the countryside. And, it is profitable. There is much high speed (up to 217 mph) rail lines in China connecting the country and more are rapidly under development.

Tom Watkins and Mr. Cheng, Shunkang, General Manager, Kawei Auto. Old friends reconnect in Taizhou, China


Have you heard of WeChat? Everyone in China uses this social media platform. WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: Sounds like Wēixìn; literally: “micro-message”) is China’s social media, instant messaging, commerce and payment services all rolled into one – a mobile application software developed by Tencent.

First released in 2011, by this year, it is one of the largest standalone messaging apps by monthly active users in the world – with well over 963 million users. Known as China’s “App For Everything”, its many functions and platforms include replacing cash as a payment system, and includes messaging and translation services. My colleague and friend who accompanied me on this trip used his WeChat to pay for didis (taxis), Uber travel, hotels, and meals. In a 3-week period, I counted, on one hand, the times where cash or a credit card was used as payment for anything in China.

China’s other tech wunderkind, the e-commerce giant, Alibaba (, is akin to Amazon on steroids. Equally as ubiquitous, everything anyone needs can and is ordered online, whether the product is big or small, and delivered overnight. Facebook is banned in China and many believe We Chat is closely monitored by the Chinese Government.

Michigan Benefits

As I have written in the prestigious e-zine, the relationship between Michigan and China is paying off for the Great Lake State. In 2016, Michigan ranked number two in the United States for the number of investment projects from China, number three in the nation for the number of jobs created by Chinese investment, and number four in total capital investment.

Between January 2010 and July 2017, Michigan received $1.1 billion in new business investment from China that created 5,475 jobs for Michigan residents – an ROI that has created numerous benefits for the people of the Great Lake State.

Michigan Leads

Jerry Xu, former dynamic president of the Detroit Chinese Business Association (, has created a new and needed organization that is finding thoughtful ways to build bridges between Michigan and China: Michigan US/China Exchange Center. ( Last week they sponsored an exceptional event “Welcome to Beijing” ( with Oakland County that highlighted the growth and opportunities in the Chinese nation’s capital. We need more of these events that educate Michiganders about how we can build cultural and educational bridges with China.

Wang Yue, Vice Director, Beijing Tourism Bureau and Jerry Xu, President of Michigan US/China Exchange Center

Michigan’s Governor Snyder understands that doing business in China is not the equivalent of a one-night stand. It takes time to develop the “guanxi” relationships necessary to make and seal deals. As he remarked at the recent grand opening of the Michigan China Innovation Center ( a non-profit organization he established to continue the China investment momentum he initiated, “I have more than transactions and business deals to show for my trips to China. I have genuine friendships with Chinese business and government leaders that have resulted in jobs and investment in Michigan.”

Snyder understands that knowing, respecting, and appreciating the history, customs, and culture of China goes a long way in cementing and bringing investment and jobs to Michigan.

Understanding China: A 21st-century imperative

As I touched on in this interview with Education News (, I believe that understanding China and finding ways to partner with them is a 21st imperative. The relationship between the US and China is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. All major issues will intersect at the corner of Washington, DC and Beijing.

When President Trump visits China for the first time next month, likely trade and North Korea will dominate the talks. How our leaders manage this relationship will not only impact the citizens of our respective nations but all of the humanity.

China is a civilization and nation with over a 3000-year-old history. The more I am exposed to China, the less I realize I know. As the 21st century unfolds, it is certain that China will create a windstorm around the world that will continue to pound America’s shores. Smart leaders and individuals will find ways to prepare our country to assure that China’s rise does not come at our demise.

Indeed, travel has a way of opening our heart, mind, and senses.

How are YOU preparing for the China wave? I am happy to help make the connections.

Author, Tom Watkins and his colleague and friend, Koralo Chen of Motown Travel Services LLC enjoying noodles in Dalin, China

Tom Watkins is Michigan’s former state superintendent of education and a business and educational consultant in the US and China. He is an advisor to the Michigan-China Innovation Center, Detroit Chinese Business Association, and Michigan US/China Exchange Center. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Windstorm Shaking the World

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