CSG Delegation Discusses Regional and Local Policy in China

On Sept. 2-8, a CSG-sponsored delegation of state leaders visited China to discuss regional policy issues and learn about bilateral relations. Over the course of the six-day trip, the delegation met with Chinese officials from the provincial, city and local levels in Beijing, Jinan and Shanghai. Additionally, the delegation met with Chinese nonprofit leaders to discuss cultural and social exchange programs and participated in an international convening of sister cities.

The delegation, comprised of CSG Toll Fellow alumni, included Tennessee state Rep. Raumesh Akbari, Georgia state Rep. Amy Carter, Utah state Rep. Becky Edwards, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, and New Hampshire state Rep. Steve Shurtleff. 

In Beijing, the delegation met with the leadership of two national, nonprofit organizations: the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, which hosted the delegation, and the China-United States Exchange Foundation. In conversations with the leaders of these organizations, the delegation discussed the current state of personal, student and professional exchange programs and the role exchanges can play in improving bilateral relations between the two nations. 

Highlighting the potential impact of exchanges were discussions of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s participation in a formative agricultural exchange program in 1985 and the growth in current student exchange programs.  

Members of the CSG delegation saw the benefits of bilateral exchange almost immediately. 

"As a state legislator, I gained significant information about the culture and governmental role in China,” said Carter. “As a high school teacher in rural South Georgia, I was able to bring the People's Republic of China to the classroom through my pictures and experiences. The opportunity to make this visit with CSG impacted many young lives."

In Jinan in Shandong province, the delegation shifted its focus to local affairs during their participation in the first-ever sister city conference focused on cities with springs, lakes and other water-based natural resources. During the conference the delegation learned from European and Asian officials about innovative tourism promotion, sustainable and culturally respectful development, and water management techniques. In addition to the conference, the delegation met with provincial and city leaders to discuss their experience with tourism and how Jinan was able to develop its 72 springs for business, cultural, personal and community uses.

Finally, in Shanghai, the delegation had the opportunity to tour the city’s Urban Planning Center, which is responsible for the development and zoning of the most populous city in the world. The city is noted for the rapid development of its skyline, with its iconic river-front skyscrapers now occupying what was working farm land just a few decades ago. The Urban Planning Center is the heart of this development activity and the delegation was hosted for a tour and briefing of the center’s facility and work in recent decades as Shanghai emerged as China’s financial and trade capital.

The delegation also discussed delivery of civil services with the vice mayor of one of Shanghai’s districts—a sub-city administrative unit. In this case, the district included the train station the delegation arrived in from Jinan via a high-speed train that traveled almost 190 miles per hour and the vice mayor briefed the delegation on a newly implemented effort to provide free Wi-Fi across the district to support tech-based businesses and entrepreneurs. 

While local policy issues in Chinese and American regions appear vastly different at first glance, the delegation found common challenges and solutions with their counterparts on almost every topic. 

“Whether meeting with local officials in Jinan or Shanghai, it seems we all share common challenges with economic development, meeting infrastructure and transportation needs, and making sure our constituents are supported,” said Akbari. “Working together, I think we'll find though we may operate on different scales, we share some of the same issues."

These commonalities in local and regional policy provided a fertile area for discussion, best practice sharing and professional exchanges. Highlighting the value of exchanges were a number of Chinese officials noting that their children have, or are, attending U.S. colleges for a semester or enrolled in U.S. graduate programs. On the U.S. side, members of the delegation noted the growing popularity and demand for Chinese language classes and deepening business relationships between their communities and China. While the bilateral relationship is complicated by a number of issues at the national level, the benefit of exchanges appears to be as valuable today as it was in 1985 when Xi studied American agricultural techniques in Iowa.