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US-China sub-national ties highlighted at summit

By KONG WENZHENG in Lexington, Kentucky | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-05-25 03:14

State leaders and experts from the US called for an enhanced relationship on the state and local levels between China and the US during a gathering Thursday.

"In general, we are seeing an increased interest of focus on sub-national international relations," said Cyrus Habib, lieutenant governor of Washington state, while attending the Fifth China-US Governors Forum in Lexington, Kentucky.

Habib is seeing increasing interest not only on the state level, but also on the local and even agency levels as well which he said comes in line with the complexity and diversity of the US and Sino economies.

"There's so much to be done," said Habib, and while the US government is taking a central role in policy making as well as facilitating and funding different initiatives, the states and cities have very strong roles to play as they "are so close to the businesses clusters, and are the funders of the university systems," he said.

Habib, who went to China in 2017 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the sister-state relationship between Washington state and Sichuan province in China, saw states and provinces serving as ambassadors and intermediaries to the national-level relationship between the two countries, and could foster a mutual understanding between the two countries that are different in multiple ways.

"In my opinion, the way to overcome those differences," which comes both in terms of culture and politics, "is through mutual understanding," said Habib.

"The more we can do that, and the closer to the people that we can do that, the better," he added, and that is making the sub-national level connections important.

"We always make sure we get to know one another," said Habib, who visited companies and universities during his 2017 trip to China.

As the investments from China are important to Washington state and China is the state's biggest trade partner, it's important to get to know China on the community level, said Habib, because "all these jobs and these companies at the end of the day is people, it's families, it's their kids, their neighborhoods, etc.."

Habib's advocacy of building a sub-national level relationship was shared with other political and industrial leaders attending the summit.

"State is at the core level of relationship building (in) that it lays the foundation for future cooperation," said Bob Holden, a former governor of Missouri who cofounded the United States Heartland China Association, a nonprofit organization that covers 20 US states and helps to advance relations with China.

Holden highlighted the importance of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, noting that when people understand, trust and relate to each other, they will better solve the problems between them.

Such interpersonal interactions, which could take place in the form of cultural and educational exchanges for example, could also lead to economic benefits. "If we build a strong foundation among our two cultures, if we develop the educational connections that are important for our future, then business will follow, and we will be successful," said Holden.

Holden believes that in recent time, when the China-US relationship is facing challenges on the national level, the sub-national relationship is becoming more significant.

"[With] the tariff discussion going on in Washington DC, a lot of the farm community has been hurt by that and they are looking for other avenues to communicate their relationships. In the manufacturing field, the same thing is occurring," said Holden, who believes that states or cities that are taking on those opportunities today will see the benefits in the future.

Holden is seeing opportunities of sub-national level cooperations in various fields, including infrastructure development, education, culture, and business-to-business ties — from big ones to small and mid-size businesses.

"The bonds and friendships both officially and personally are strong and growing. And frankly when there are rough ages at the national level, that just enforces the importance of the sub-national, municipal and community level connections between our two countries," said Stephen Quigley Jr., chair emeritus of Sister Cities International.

For Carol Lopez, the vice chair of Sister Cities International, the governor summit is evidence of the still strong interest in sub-national level ties between China and the US.

"People (are) coming together with so many common problems and solutions and issues to talk about - one wouldn't even know there are all the issues going on in Washington (DC) when you see the participants today," said Lopez.

"Because we are still enjoying the ability to talk together, the opportunity to talk about economic growth, the opportunity to talk about how our economies are really entwined," she said.

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