By Greg Hugh
The McNamara Alumni Center on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota was abuzz with activity on the afternoon of April 22. It was one of the University’s China 100 events, followed in the evening by the 13th annual Bob and Kim Griffin Building Bridges Lecture featuring Jon Huntsman, former U.S. Ambassador to China. China 100 is a yearlong celebration honoring the first students from China and the wealth of connections that have come since. The University noted that as a result of the more 80 memorandums of agreement signed with some 30 Chinese universities as strategic partners, the University’s world-renowned faculty are working with Chinese researchers to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.
During registration for the symposium, attendees were able to view an exhibit that depicts the deep history between the University and China in the past century. It highlights remarkable moments that led to the wealth of exchanges, partnerships and opportunities that exist today. Collectively, the various themes tell the stories of people and events that help us understand the development of engagement between the University and China.
During the Opening Plenary held in Memorial Hall, University representatives greeted the gathering, announced that Governor Mark Dayton had issued a proclamation in recognition of the China 100 Symposium declaring April 22, 2014, as Minnesota China Education Exchange Day. Also introduced was a panel of Chinese alumni, including Lawrence Pan, grandson of Pan Wenping, one of the first Chinese students to attend the University in 1914.
Next on the schedule were breakout sessions that covered the following topics:
• Dialogue between business leaders: China business strategies and growth trends
• Minnesota and China: global agriculture and food safety
• PM2.5 health effects and control
• Medical research collaboration between Minnesota and China
• Pioneers in educational exchange: How the University established meaningful partnerships with China
• Sustainability efforts for China’s future.
Each session included a discussion by a distinguished panel of experts. Unfortunately, attendees could only attend two sessions and there was not enough time to properly explore these topics.
The China 100 Symposium concluded with a social hour.
Jon Huntsman was the highlight of the Bob and Kim Griffin Building U.S.-China Bridges Lecture. The Griffins’ substantial gift to the China Center reflects their commitment to promoting mutual respect between the U.S. and China and their passion to connect people to China.
According to the program’s bio, Huntsman is “A distinguished diplomat, successful businessman and twice-elected governor of Utah. Jon Huntsman brings a bipartisan global perspective in elevating the discussion on the key issues and challenges facing the world today. He served as U.S. Ambassador to China and Singapore for Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush and is noted for his ability to infuse issues of global importance into key political and economic concerns facing audiences today.”
This writer was granted a very brief, personal interview with Huntsman prior to his scheduled presentation: Following are two of the questions time allowed:
CI: Do you have any advice for Max Baucus, the current U.S. Ambassador to China?
JH: I would tell him to do what he knows best. As the former chair of the Senate Finance Committee, he oversaw tax and trade policy so he could use this experience to develop mutually beneficial trade relations between the U.S. and China.
CI: Why did you decide to join the Atlantic Council now as its chair?
JH: After politics, there was not much that was worthwhile pursuing. By serving on the Atlantic Council, there is an opportunity to be involved with international affairs by addressing the global challenges with which we are presented.
Prior to Huntsman’s talk, Joan Brzezinski, executive director of the China Center and Confucius Institute welcomed the gathering and introduced Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, followed by Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean for international programs. Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, introduced Huntsman and the title of his lecture: China: Opportunities and Challenges.
Huntsman presented what he perceived to be the opportunities and challenges China faces in a manner that most people would understand, not about hard-to-understand political and economic issues.
According to Huntsman, China is basically in control of its own destiny. Its future will depend on how it handles the urbanization of its population while dealing with the dominant state-owned enterprises and the mega players. He stated that while he feels Xi Jinping, president of China, is a most impressive leader, Xi nevertheless is in the “hot seat” that needs to deal with a 21st century U.S.-China relationship that adapts to the evolving world order, which continues to be the unwritten part of this story. Consider the fact that the U.S. is surrounded by friendly and good neighbors while China is surrounded by competitors. Can China transition from a producing nation to a consuming nation? Can confidence be built or should you invest in Sri Lanka real estate?
Huntsman also pointed out that there were some geopolitical issues that influence a peaceful rise of China, which he described as an oxymoron. Common ground needed to be found, what would bring the U.S., and China together needed to be defined. He felt that China knows it cannot go to war; it knows where the red lines are and will not cross them.
After his formal talk, Huntsman continued a conversation with Schwartz on these topics, notably:
• The Chinese population is frustrated.
• The Chinese government needs to build greater trust and must deliver on its anticorruption drive and “clear the decks.”
• It also appears that the U.S. Congress does not have any interest in China now and is more concerned about what it can do TO rather than WITH China.
• As for human rights, Huntsman suggested human empowerment and China’s need to focus on the rule of law.
• As for a lesson the U.S. could learn from China, Huntsman stated that there should be respect for teachers.
Questions were gathered from the audience and presented to him by Schwartz. Two of the questions were:
What is the biggest misunderstanding that China has about the U.S? Huntsman answered that China feels the U.S. wants to contain China and he says that this is absolutely not true.
What would he recommend for someone interested in pursuing a diplomatic career? Huntsman complimented the 2,000-member staff at the U.S. Embassy in China as being one of the most dedicated group of civil servants with which he has ever served, He stated one needs to be well-trained in all kinds of disciplines be it in economics, security, language or whatever. A career diplomat needs to maximize his/her time and learn a specialty in order to serve in a diplomatic position.
The evenings talk ended with Bob Griffin presenting Huntsman with token of appreciation.
Editor’s note: The China Center plans to post a video of the breakout. Please check www.chinacenter.umn.edu.