A Two-Way Bridge

May 19, 2018 by

Tom Watkins –

The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China is the most important on the world stage today. Every major world issue (think, North Korea) will intersect at the corner of Washington, D.C., and Beijing.

This relationship has been an ongoing dance that has produced mutual benefits for both countries and all of humanity. It is up to both national leaders to navigate this evolving relationship in ways that produce “win-win” opportunities for us as well as the Chinese people.

With leadership and skill, the China/U.S. relationship does not have to be a zero-sum game.

While not naive about the challenges between our two nations, I believe it is in our best interest at the subnational level to seek ways to build economic, educational and cultural bridges between Michigan and China that will pay dividends for decades to come.

While kicking off Michigan-China Week just two weeks ago in Detroit’s now-thriving Motor City with Mayor Duggan, Michigan Governor Snyder, Chinese Consul General Hong Lei, and additional five provincial Chinese officials, hundreds of local businesses worked to learn about expanding their business in China while meeting with Chinese investors seeking opportunities to invest in Michigan. The cities of Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids held special celebrations.

Government and business delegations from six of Michigan’s partner provinces in China—Guangdong, Sichuan, Hebei, Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang – traveled to Michigan to attend this bilateral exchange. The events were organized by the Michigan-China Innovation Center. Check out the center’s website for more information about ways you might engage with China to help create jobs, investment and wealth in Michigan. (www.Michiganchina.org).

Founded in 2016 with a grant from the State of Michigan, the Michigan-China Innovation Center (MCIC) is a non-profit organization building business ties and enhancing cooperation between Michigan and China. Its mission is to create jobs, attract investment, and increase competitiveness in Michigan by developing win-win ventures with China.

There remain many success stories to counter the “ship jobs to China” narrative that all too often exploit citizen concerns, especially during election season.

As noted by The Detroit News business columnist, Daniel Howes, a Chinese auto supplier purchased a Michigan company creating jobs and investment here at home. The acquisition became a win-win opportunity. (SEE: “Chinese moves into Detroit gain speed, scrutiny” https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/columnists/daniel-howes/2018/05/08/chinese-moves-detroit-gain-speed-scrutiny/34702283/)

Carol Cain, the business columnist with The Detroit Free Press has done an exceptional job covering China’s rise and what it means for Michigan. She wrote about another Michigan success story that could be derailed by the Trump China tariff dispute in her recent column:  “Michigan Jeep supplier backs Trump but fears his tariffs on China” (https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/columnists/carol-cain/2018/05/05/china-tariffs-trump/576588002/)

Governor Snyder will be making his final trip as governor in the coming month to continue to forge this vital relationship.


Michigan is blessed with an active Chinese/Asian-American community that adds value, contributes greatly to our state and makes a huge difference in our communities. Some of the organizations include: The Detroit Chinese Business Association (www.dcba.com), the Chinese Association of Greater Detroit (www.cagd-us.org), The Michigan/US/China Exchange Center (www.ucxcenter.com), The National Association of Asian American Professionals, Detroit (http://dtw.naaap.org/about-naaap/), Association of Chinese Americans (www.acadetroit.org), and The Council of Asian-Pacific Americans, (www.CAPA-mi.org).

Jerry Xu, President of The Michigan/US/China Exchange Center and former President of the Detroit Chinese Business Association has watched the connection between China and Michigan accelerate during the past 8 years and sees tremendous opportunity for further growth going forward: “Capital goes where it is welcome and stays where it is nourished. With leadership, Michigan can continue to tap the rich cultural, educational and economic vein in China that will create jobs and wealth on both sides of the Pacific.”

Milan Stevanovich, Vice President of Global Strategy for the Detroit China Business Association believes, “we only have just begun” in building the connections with China. He credits the Snyder Administration for understanding the vital importance of relationship building as a prerequisite for doing business in China: “Governor Snyder has done more to cement the bonds with government and business leaders in China than all his predecessors combined.”

China Bound

Before the Michigan-China week celebration ended, I was winging my way back to China where I have traveled and worked to build cultural, educational, and business ties for more than four decades. During my trip – fully focused on education – I plan to share some of the exciting opportunities that are being created and expanded around the Michigan/China educational axis.

Michigan has much of what the Chinese want and need: automotive and autonomous vehicle technology, a pristine environment that nurtures agricultural products, entertainment (golf, gambling, tourism), healthcare, and exceptional schools, community colleges, and universities. Michigan needs to continue to market our state on the world stage. We have done well tapping the automotive, agricultural and university/student pipeline to and from China.

There remains great elasticity in these sectors for continued growth. While tapping the rich vein of technical, community college and especially, K-12 student exchanges, tourism, healthcare, and education expansion at the university level are areas that are ripe for economic expansion going forward.

Michigan is currently home to more than 300 Chinese firms and more than four billion dollars in investment that supports more than 6,000 jobs. China is now Michigan’s third largest export market. According to Rhodium Group, an economic research firm focusing on U.S./China investment, Michigan has the third largest number of Chinese investments among all the United States.

China Opens Up

Four decades after its reform and opening-up, China retains its allure as a vast, growing market and an investment destination while becoming a big source of investment globally.

According to The China Daily, the English language newspaper in China, the first China International Import Expo scheduled for this November in Shanghai is expected to further open Chinese markets for imports of goods and service. China reported year-on-year GDP growth of 6.8 percent in the first quarter – the 11th quarter in a row with a growth rate between 6.7 percent and 6.9 percent.

As President Trump proposed tariffs and the threat of a trade war looms, we must all hope that cooler heads prevail. Wisely, China has proposed three key principles that both sides should abide by going forward to settle whatever trade differences exist between the U.S. and China:

  • Mutual understanding
  • Mutual respect, and
  • Mutual benefit

It remains in the best interest of both nations and the world that the U.S. and China make a concerted effort to find solutions to any bilateral trade friction. Uncertainty and continued strained relationship between the two largest world economies has the potential to harm global economic growth.

All Politics Are Local

Facilitating trust, not between presidents, ambassadors, and ministers, but also at the subnational state level is critical to obtaining a sustainable relationship between the USA and China. Such trust cannot be nurtured solely through commerce, military tit-for-tat, or threatened trade wars.

International issues between our respective leaders dominate the headlines, yet every day subnational leaders quietly lay the foundation of a strong and lasting relationship. What we are collectively building will outlive any world leader on the stage today.

I serve on the board of the National Tai Initiative which was created to help build on the opportunity for subnational leaders of both countries to play an active role in shaping a positive outcome for the sake of our two nations, worlds apart but inextricably linked together with the world community.

At the national level, there are talks of “trade wars”, tariffs and anti-immigrant sentiment. While there is the talk of building walls at the national level, Michigan continues to build bridges that are paying dividends for our citizens.

Let’s keep the momentum going.

Tom Watkins’ lifelong interest in China sparked by a great fourth-grade teacher. For nearly four decades, he has worked to build economic, educational, and cultural ties between the U.S. and China. He serves on the Michigan-China Innovation Center Advisory Board and is an adviser to the Detroit Chinese Business Association and the Michigan/US/China Exchange Center as well as serving on the national board of the Tai Initiative. A regular contributor to the prestigious ChinaUSfocus.com website, follow Tom on Twitter or contact him via wechat @tdwatkins88

Source: A Two-Way Bridge

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