In mid-October, I headed to China as part of the 2013 China Global Leaders Program which seeks to assist state leaders in positioning the state to respond to global challenges and opportunities. In 2009 and 2011, North Carolina delegations visited China to study economic development and, in 2010, another delegation visited Europe to study clean energy policies.
The idea is to give participants a first-hand experience with China’s dynamic economy so that we can make informed decisions about policies and practices that might foster North Carolina’s economic development through engagement with China. The program goals were:
- Expand understanding of China’s economy today;
- Explore the role of the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries in China’s economy and the potential opportunities and challenges they present for North Carolina;
- Learn about features of China culture, history, and government which impact business interactions;
- Identify policies, resources, and practices which might strengthen North Carolina’s economy through increasing explores to and engagement with China.
The delegation was composed of six state senators, three state representatives, representatives from the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the NC Department of Agriculture and Cultural Affairs, business leaders, and staff from the sponsoring organization, the Center for International Understanding. I was the senior House member and one of three participants from western North Carolina.
The trip went to three major cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing. Since the focus was on the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, we met with Chinese businessman and Chinese government officials in each of these cities to discuss economic development opportunities in these sectors. We also met with government officials to talk about health care in China and visited a large hospital in Shanghai.
So what did I learn or what surprised me?
I learned that China is a wildly dynamic country that is undergoing great change. I also learned that China and the United States have similar problems providing health care. Both countries have people who don’t receive health care, and both countries are struggling to contain spiraling health care costs.
I’ve never seen as much construction going on as I saw in China in my short time there. There are huge migrations of people from the rural parts of the country to the cities, and each of these cities is larger than any city in the United States.
I was surprised to see just how commercial and consumer focused the Chinese economy is. I think Shanghai and Beijing have more high-end shops and stores than Beverly Hills, Palm Beach or New York.
I was also surprised at how immature the Chinese legal system is. The Chinese are well aware that Americans and Europeans are not going to invest in China until they know that they can get consistent results from the Chinese judiciary on contract and intellectual property issues.
Our trip also included a visit to a high school in Nanjing and one of the leading universities in Beijing, Tsinghua University. While the students we met were impressive, many of them shared the goal of studying abroad and many had an interest in coming to North Carolina to study at one of our public or private universities. North Carolina’s universities were consistently recognized as among the best, and we met numerous professionals who were educated in North Carolina.
My “take home” was that one of North Carolina’s advantages in terms of trade with China is our universities. As one of the chairs of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, I’m going to keep this in mind as we make funding decisions related to the university system. It is clear that education and economic development are inextricably connected.
The trip to China was funded, in part, by the Raleigh-based Center for International Understanding and its Chinese counterpart, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. Participants also paid for a portion of the trip, since we took in some of the traditional sites like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.
Shortly after getting back from China last week, I met with the President & CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, Andrew Tate, to talk about Henderson County companies interested in selling products in China. Since coming back, I’ve also communicated with the NC Department of Commerce regarding Henderson County businesses the department has identified as prospects to market products to China or to partner with Chinese companies wanting to do business in the United States.
I was honored to have been asked to be part of the delegation visiting China. My hope is that I can help facilitate the sale of North Carolina products in China or help North Carolina companies partner with Chinese companies wanting to do business in the United States.