I'm way behind in blogging about a million things, including IU's recent study tour to Hangzhou and Shanghai. Carried out under the theme, "US-China Business Cooperation in the 21st Century," the trip was a terrific success, as you can see from two other blogs: "IU Takes You to China," maintained by IU's George Vlahakis; and "The New China," by the Indianapolis Business Journal's Greg Andrews.The RCCPB itself has a page devoted to the trip, at www.indiana.edu/~rccpb/Chinatrip.html.
A few things stand out about the trip:
Our delegation members got along great! We were a motley crew of scholars of politics, journalism, and business, thrown together with journalists and business executives. You would think everyone would have their own agenda, some would walk really slowly and others would be running ahead, some would want McDonald's and others would want the strangest things from foodstalls, and some would want to meet movie stars and others beggars on the street. And that we'd get on each others' nerves. That would've been a great soap opera, but it didn't turn out that way at all. Again, we got along great! No whinning, no complaining, no taunting, and no "when are we gonna be there?!!!" A couple folks were squeemish about driving down the wrong side of the road to get through a traffic jam (Shanghai's traffic situation has deteriorated big time), firmly grabbing to their seat handles and tightly closing their eyes, and some of us saw this as great fun and standard practice -- the yellow lines in the road are just suggestive. But in general, we followed Hu Jintao's dictum to be a harmonious group.
Second, the quality of scholarship we encountered at Zhejiang University is first-rate. I may be leaving some folks out, but I was just immensely impressed. Three participants in the conference stood out: Wei Lu (韦路) from the College of Media and International Culture, who presented the findings from a sophisticated study of Internet usage that found the wealthier you are the broader your use of the Internet; Zhao Jun (赵骏) from Guanghua School of Law, who presented research on international investment and stepped in to translate flawlessly with zero notice; and Wang Zhikai (王志凯), from the School of Economics, who took on the job of organizing the specifics of our conference at Zheda and many other details of our visit. I also was fortunate enough to give a lecture on business lobbying to a (small) packed room at the College of Public Administration. Host and vice dean Yu Jianxing (郁建兴) offered some terrific comments, as did grad students and faculty in the audience.
Many of the Chinese with whom we spoke were very worried that the country was falling into what one person called, a "middle income trap," in which the progress of the last three decades was coming to halt in the face of greater government intrusion into business and the lack of a positive business environment for innovation and expansion. At the symposium, a local company executive made an impassioned argument for more extensive economic and political reforms. One cannot, of course, dismiss such concerns -- they live them every day -- but it is odd that from the outside China looks like it is rising as fast as could be; Americans, Europeans and others believe it is they, and not Chinese, who are hurting the most these days. How could these companies, with China's 11% growth and $2.6 trillion in foreign exhange, be suffering? Explaining these conflicting perceptions is going to be an important task for years to come.
We visited a handful of companies in a variety of sectors, and the distinction between Chinese and foreign seems more irrelevant than ever. Shanghai GM, a JV between GM and Shanghai Auto, is it American or Chinese? Our host, David Chen, was originally from China, but studied at Purdue and worked in the US for a long time before returning to China for GM. Crown Biosciences, a company officially based in the US but with facilities in Beijing, Taicang and Wuhan, is run by Chinese who used to work for Eli Lilly, and one of them taught at Indiana University. One gentleman who showed us around studied at Cambridge and had a nice British accent. They are prepared to comply with both Chinese government and US FDA regulations. Tianma Micro-Electronics, a producer of flat screens, is owned by the centrally-controlled China Aeronautical Technology Group (中国航天科工集团), but it is listed on the Shenzhen Exchange, its production technology and processes are almost entirely Japanese, and its chief technology officer spent years in Silicon Valley. And Cummins Fleetguard, co-owned by Columbus-based Cummins Engine, is a joint venture located in Pudong; almost everyone in the plant was Chinese, and the manager of filtration for Asia-Pacific, Mark O'Connor, is originally from Australia.
Finally, on Friday, March 18, we had an awesome reception on the 40th floor of the Shanghai Hilton with about 90 guests, including IU alumni, current students, and friends from the broader business community. Even friends attended from the humbly named Lord Corporation; my brother-in-law Scott Thompson works in their Erie, Pennsylvania facility. It was wonderful to be with such a great group of Hoosiers and friends of Indiana.
All in all, a great visit, and I'm deeply grateful to everyone at IU, Zhejiang University, the journalists and business executives who accompanied us, and the organizations we visited for making it possible.