Ed. Note: The third meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue
(S&ED) will be held in Washington, DC, May 9-10, 2011. Treasury
Secretary Tim Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
will be joined for the Dialogue by their respective Chinese Co-Chairs,
Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo.
How often do you hear Chattanooga and Chongqing used in the same sentence - or imagine that these cities situated 8,000 miles apart could have anything in common or something to learn from one another? This week we brought U.S. and Chinese mayors together in one room to discuss just that. As part of the U.S.-China Initiative on City-Level Economic Cooperation, we met in Seattle to discuss how to finance first-class infrastructure that can boost and sustain economic growth, create jobs, improve quality of life, and protect the environment. Thanks to the National League of Cities, we are able to bring together leaders of five Chinese cities with representatives of more than 50 U.S. cities who also exchanged insights on how to best foster innovative start-ups and small businesses.
The idea for the dialogue was first hatched between Secretary Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan at last year’s U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Beijing as a way to promote greater engagement among city and state government officials. After all, economic growth and job creation occurs business by business, town by town. The U.S. Department of State is also working with the National Governors Association to deepen engagement among state government officials with their Chinese counterparts.
Most Americans have heard about Beijing and Shanghai just as most Chinese know about New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But this meeting was the first time many of the delegates had located on a map, let alone considered the challenges and successes of, cities such as Wuxi, Weifang, Chattanooga and Kansas City.
What became clear is that municipal officials in both countries are grappling with similar challenges and that best practices for meeting these challenges can sometimes be found on the other side of the world. Both countries face daunting financing needs to improve infrastructure, as China builds and America modernizes, roads, bridges and railways. The mayor of Weifang, a city in Shandong Province, outlined the tremendous growth in transportation infrastructure his city has undertaken over the last 10 years, from roads to ports to a new airport – all in a city where 20 years ago, most people commuted by bicycle. At the same time, many U.S. mayors discussed how they are working to shift the focus from cars to public transportation, inter-city rail, and bicycles as more efficient, faster and cleaner ways to travel.
As Chongqing Vice Mayor Ma Zhengqi noted, the history of the United States presents examples that China can use as it undergoes a process of urbanization that is historic in scale. Over the next 20 years, China’s urban population will grow by as many as 300 million people, or roughly the current population of the entire United States. And the United States has a huge interest in helping China manage this transition successfully. China’s urbanization will present new and growing opportunities for U.S. businesses and workers to sell American products and services to an expanding urban middle class. It also will help ensure a cleaner world for future generations in China and around the globe. Many of the U.S. mayors noted that as China struggles to satisfy its rapidly growing demand for energy, improving energy efficiency and recycling can often be cleaner and cheaper than building new energy plants.
Finally, mayors from both countries stressed the importance of foreign trade and investment in their strategy to create growth and jobs. In a session facilitated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, officials from more than 50 American cities had the opportunity to directly engage with 16 Chinese enterprises seeking U.S. investment opportunities. While Chinese direct investment in the United States is relatively new, it is growing quickly. As our local and business officials get to know each other better, in part through events like this one, they will be better able to capture the opportunities presented by China’s rapid economic growth, in a way that benefits all of us.
David Loevinger is Senior Coordinator & Executive Secretary for China and the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.