By Wen Liu
Washington state exports to China have grown faster than the rest of the country, totaling more than $8 billion last year, but the state needs to do more to attract Chinese investment, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told a packed audience Oct. 1 at the annual banquet of the Washington State China Relations Council in downtown Seattle. Locke is visiting Seattle while China observes a seven-day holiday celebrating National Day, Oct. 1.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who will lead a trade mission to China next month, introduced Locke to the audience as Washington’s “favorite and and best export to China.”
Locke said he was glad to be back in Seattle with its “clean, fresh air,” and he gave a keynote address on China’s dramatic transformation and the opportunities it presents to the U.S.
“When Nixon first went to China, bilateral trade was less than $100 million,” he said. “Today one and a half million dollars in goods and services flow between the two countries every single day.”
With the wealth that China has amassed, becoming the world’s second largest economy, the country is now encouraging its companies to go global. Chinese cumulative investment in the U.S. soared to $28 billion in 2012. This year it is on track to top $11 billion. By 2020, it is expected to rise to be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, he told the packed banquet room.
However, Washington is behind many other states in attracting Chinese investment.
“There’s no reason Washington state should rank only 26th among U.S. states in attracting investment,” Locke said. “Washington can and should do better. Other states are doing it and they’re getting great results.”
The state, along with China-related organizations and professional services firms, should launch an aggressive campaign to improve the situation, he said.
Locke said his priority as America’s top diplomat in China was “to work with the American business community in China to support President Obama’s job-creating efforts” at home.
Locke also prioritized reforming the process of visa application and making it easier for the Chinese citizens to travel to the U.S. It once took as many as 60 days to get a visa interview appointment at an American consulate in China. By December 2011, when Locke presented to a Chinese citizen the one millionth visa issued in China, the wait time had been reduced to five days. Now, the average wait time is as short as one to three days, Locke said. The next step, he added, would be issuing five-year visas with multiple entries instead of the current one-year visas, and even have visas delivered to applicants.
Asked about his best experiences in China so far, Locke replied that the highlight has been getting to know China outside of the big cities, and visiting his family’s ancestral village in rural Guangdong Province, which feels “like stepping back into the 1800s,” he said.
Seeing the huge contrast in living standards in households with virtually no appliances that are still burning wood or coal and sharing a communal bathroom was an eye-opener for his kids.
The worst experience? “The most depressing or negative experience was the incredible air pollution in Beijing in January 2013,” Locke said without much hesitation. “For about four or five days you really could not see to the end of the block.”
Collaborating on clean energy can help improve the situation and address major issues such as pollution and climate change, he said.
Many Chinese leaders ask U.S. consulates for referrals to American environmental technology firms, but more efforts are needed, he said.
“The world is looking for leadership of both China and the United States working together,” he said. (end)
Wen Liu writes for contextChina at http://contextchina.com.