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Business Promotional Mission to Shenzhen & Sichuan Province, China, Dec 18-23, 2006

 Written by Andreas Udbye, World Trade Center Tacoma

On Monday, December 18, 2006, Washington's Secretary of State Sam Reed, his wife Margie Reed, his assistant Mary Gould, and the Executive Director of the World Trade Center Tacoma, Andreas Udbye, set out on a five day trip to three cities in China. The purpose of the trip was to sign a "Strategic Cooperation Agreement" between the WTC Tacoma and the WTC Shenzhen and the CEO Clubs China, Shenzhen Chapter, as well as pay an official visit to the City of JiangYou, which is the City of University Place's new sister city, and located in Washington State's sister province, Sichuan. The signing ceremony in Shenzhen also included a business seminar for local CEO's, where both Sam Reed and Andreas Udbye gave speeches promoting Washington State products and international trade.

The timing of the trip - just a few days before Christmas - could have been better, but we did not really have a choice in the matter. The trip was sponsored and financed in its entirety by the Chinese (both JiangYou and Shenzhen), and was quite a commitment for them in terms of time and money invested.

We were gone for five days, but two of them were spent traveling, so we only had three nights in China. Our United flight from Seattle to Tokyo was cancelled due to technical problems, so we had to scramble to find an alternative flight to get to the seminar and signing ceremony on time. We ended up on a 15-hour Cathay pacific Hong Kong flight from Los Angeles, and after a couple of hours of rest, walked more or less straight into the event. Two of us had not changed clothes because three of our five suitcases were missing (two showed up later that day, and the last one the day after). Our loyal member, Mr. Ron Chow of Seattle Pacific Trading, was already in China and met us at Hong Kong Airport. He is the one who helped us broker the agreements with the Shenzhen people and the City of JiangYou in the Sichuan province.

The cooperation agreement we signed in Shenzhen has four main components:

  1. Trade Services and Market Development (helping companies from both sides enter the opposite market with low risk and cost)
  2. Organizing a Forum and Professional Training and Exchange Program (aiming to promote communication between companies from both sides)
  3. Members Recruiting/Exchange (reciprocal benefits)
  4. Web sites linking and Showroom Establishment (both virtual and physical)

The agreements were signed by Andreas Udbye on behalf of WTC Tacoma, Mr. Hao Zhihua on behalf of the CEO Club, and Mr. Joe Wang, WTC Shenzhen's General Secretary. Over the next two years we will gradually develop suitable services to satisfy the intent and wording of the agreements. One example is our "word cleaning" service, which helps members of the Shenzhen based organizations to issue and publish materials with proper English spelling, grammar and prose. Also, in May of 2007 we will be bringing a 25-person Washington State trade mission back to Shenzhen during a stopover on an official mission to Vietnam. We understand that the WTC Shenzhen has 22,000 members (!)

During the networking portion of the seminar, several of the local participants identified themselves with projects ranging from biotech, Chinese securities, industrial trading, textiles, telecommunications, wine imports, industrial rubber and plastics products, artistic candles, logistics/warehousing, and industrial lighting. The seminar attracted about 60 business executives, and was held at the Oriental Ginza Hotel at the western outskirts of Shenzhen.

There is no rest for the wicked (or something like that), so right after this luncheon seminar we were whisked off to Shenzhen Airport, with a brief stopover at a specialized manufacturer of LED displays, Unilight. This was a fascinating factory visit, and taught us how large scale full-color LED displays (some of these panels are huge) are constructed and joined together. Check their web site at www.unilight.cn

After a two hour flight to Chengdu (on Sichuan Airlines) and a two-hour bus ride we arrived in the City of JiangYou and to a fun Chinese banquet dinner. I love the variety of Chinese food, and they had deliberately toned down the spiciness of the Sichuan style cooking to fit our more tender palates. I ate everything, pretty much whatever they threw at me (or more correctly, spun towards me on the lazy Susan), and I found the food in JiangYou to be particularly delicious. The Great Wall red wine they also served (the 1996 and 1999 vintages) was also excellent (disclaimer: I'm totally not a wine snob, so all red wine to me tastes about the same...), but the same cannot be said for the Moutou rice liquor that they tried to entice us with. I think this is an acquired taste, but for the uninitiated it smells like something out of a horses stable. With that in mind, the taste is not so bad. After a couple of shots of that stuff (toasting Jiang You's outgoing Mayor, Mr. Yan Chao, two Deputy Mayors - Mr. Xu Fuyuan and Mr. Hu De Bing - and several of the City's Directors), I came to my senses and remembered that there is also a day tomorrow.

We stayed at the JiangYou Hotel, which is a decent and clean place, and with large, comfortable rooms. The Chinese television company (CCTV) has a channel 9, which is English speaking, and the quality of the programming is quite good.

After breakfast on Thursday, December 21, we started on a full program consisting of a sightseeing of Mount Dou Chuan, factory visits, and teaching English classes at JiangYou Middle School. In the evening we were hosted to another dinner banquet with the newly appointed Mayor of the city, Mr. Song Kai Hui.

A highlight of the day was when each of us (Sam, Margie, Mary and Andreas) taught English class sessions at the high school. This is a large school with 7,000 students, and nine of its seniors visited University Place for ten days in the summer of 2005. I was completely alone with my class with more than 50 students (the teacher must have taken a tea break), but I had no problem keeping them alert for one hour. I gave them a lesson in the benefits of capitalism and Christianity (no, just kidding). Seriously, we talked geography, different school systems, and the importance of getting an education. The students were a pleasure to have in class, and many had fairly good language skills. It probably took quite a bit of courage for them to stand up and address the class and me in a foreign language.

(Note added in 2008: This school was severely affected by the May 12, 2008 earthquake that damaged large portions of the Sichuan Province.  JiangYou was less than 100 miles from the epicenter.  We understand close to 100 students may have been killed at the middle school where we taught.)

On Friday, December 22, we returned by car to Chengdu, where we met with our Consul General James Boughner and two of his colleagues from the Commercial Service. They are very upbeat about the export and trading possibilities in their region of China, which spans several provinces and a population of more than 200 million. The Chengdu office is one of only five consular offices in China (the other four are the Embassy in Beijing, and consulates general in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Tianjin.) The day before our meeting, CG Boughner had visited the area of Sichuan province where two American climbers were thought to be missing.

Following the meeting at the Consulate, we were received by the Foreign Affairs Office of the Sichuan Province (its Deputy Director, Mr. Zhang Yechu). 2007 will be the 25th anniversary of the sister state relationship, and both WA State and Sichuan Province are starting to think about ways to celebrate this. It is likely that our Governor's or Lt. Governor's offices will be part of the planning and festivities.

Western symbols of the Christmas celebration were everywhere to be found, and especially in shopping malls and at airports. The religious aspect has been peeled off, but Christmas trees, santa clauses, all kinds of ornaments, and "Merry Christmas" banners are omnipresent. Ironically, the Chinese have no qualms about using "Christmas", rather than the generic and politically correct (and silly) "Happy Holidays". (While most Chinese don't recognize the true meaning of Christmas, they still use its name, while here, where we supposedly do realize the true meaning of Christmas, we don't dare to call it by its real name..., hm, what's wrong with this picture ...?)

Let me finish this report by thanking our member Ron Chow for handling the logistics, his cousin David Chong for assisting us in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the WTC and CEO Club of Shenzhen for hosting us there, the City of JiangYou for superb hosting in their province, the Foreign Affairs Office of Sichuan Province for their part in this, and United Airlines and Carlson Wagonlit Travel for providing all four of us with upgrades to business class (which makes 15 hour flights survivable, especially the day before Christmas.)

University Place has truly found a pearl of a Chinese city to associate itself with. We wish both cities the best of success in their continued cooperation and endeavors.

We spent the last night in Hong Kong, where we stayed at good hotel on the Kowloon side called Harbour Plaza Metropolis. It is a four-star hotel close to the water, and the room rate was only HK$904 including tax and service (about $120), which is an excellent rate for Hong Kong these days, where many centrally located hotels now charge $300-400 per night. Hong Kong is still one of my favorite cities, and I found time to visit the Peak and took the Star Ferry. Shopping bargains were few and far between. I bought an I-Pod Nano for my wife, and paid about $170, while the same model would have been $149 plus sales tax at home (well, at least I can fly back to Hong Kong and return it if something goes wrong with it...)

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