Iowa and Hebei’s 30-year relationship continues to strengthen
By Downing Thomas
Downing Thomas, Associate Provost & Dean of International Programs
As part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the sister-state relationship between Iowa and Hebei, and in recognition of the significant and growing economic ties between Iowa and China, Governor Terry Branstad led a delegation of business, community, and educational leaders to China this past week. In addition to Governor Branstad and Ms. Debi Durham, Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, members of the delegation represented interests as diverse as agriculture, law, manufacturing, and higher education. A large group from the Iowa Sister States non-profit was also present, on their first trip abroad as a group, to mark the 30th anniversary of the relationship.
The itinerary included stops in Beijing for meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture, staff from the U.S. Embassy, and Madam Li Xiaolin of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). In Beijing and the following day in Tianjin, the governors of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Virginia held the second China - U.S. Governors' Forum with counterparts from several Chinese provinces, including Hebei. Ambassador Gary Locke addressed the group at the kick-off luncheon in Beijing. Events in Baoding City and in the Hebei capital city of Shijiazhuang followed, revolving around the 30th anniversary celebrations, punctuated by visits to businesses and meetings with potential industry, agriculture, and university partners. Many things have changed since Governor Branstand signed the sister-state agreement back in 1983. Would anyone at that time have imagined that today China would be Iowa's largest trade partner outside of North America?
The first Governor's Forum, held in the U.S. in July, 2011, resulted in more than 20 cooperation agreements on trade, science and technology, energy, and environmental protection worth around $3 billion. At this year’s Forum, representatives from the U.S. Embassy stressed the mutual advantages of collaboration, including opportunities to expand the managerial skills of the Chinese workforce and education for Chinese students. Advantages for Chinese investment in the U.S. include low energy costs, protection of intellectual property rights, and the clear (if complex) rules in the regulatory environment. Additionally, Ambassador Locke has made it a priority to shorten waiting times for visas, bringing the wait down from 30 days last year to less than a week this year. The Chinese governors nonetheless mentioned that investment in Africa and Europe was easier than in the U.S., citing the need to address the length and complications of the approval process for foreign investment.
Ties between Hebei and Iowa were cemented in 1985 when President Xi Jinping (then a county-level leader in provincial government) led a delegation to Iowa on a mission to improve Hebei's agricultural knowledge and production. Xi met Governor Branstad at that time along with many other "old friends" such as Ms. Sarah Lande of Muscatine who hosted Xi in her home. Last Monday, almost 30 years later, President Xi met with the governor here in Beijing, emphasizing the importance of cooperation at the sub-national level and the lasting impact of the people-to-people connections of the kind he experienced in Iowa in the 1980s.
UI students show their support of Xi Jinping during his visit to Muscatine, Iowa, in February 2012. Xi first visited Iowa in 1985 to learn about agricultural production.
The University of Iowa has been engaged in China for many years, and previous blog entries  have stressed that engagement at multiple levels – through partnerships that allow UI faculty research to flourish, exchanges that challenge and expand students' knowledge and experiences, and programs that give communities in eastern Iowa access to Chinese language and culture: http://international.uiowa.edu/accents/post/ui-investment-asia-benefits-all-iowans . And it is above all through education – through the education of Iowans, first and foremost, and of students from around the country and the world – that the University of Iowa contributes to the economic development, prosperity, and health of the state. Beyond our primary and most important spheres of activity in the classroom, the archive, and the lab, the University of Iowa Research Foundation and the UI's efforts to support economic development and technology transfer provide other resources for the people of Iowa and the world. The UI welcomes investments and collaborations with China that could result in clinical trial opportunities to develop new healthcare treatments, in particular in UI strength areas of biomedical imaging and basic drug development. Of the three "targeted industry clusters" identified as a priority for the state, it is above all in biotechnology that the UI can make strong contributions.
On a more down-to-earth level, we are confident that our emerging connections with alumni in China will result in opportunities for UI graduates through internships and placements in companies abroad. Faculty and staff global expertise can be leveraged to offer intercultural competency training to Iowa companies that are expanding overseas and need to train their workforce to function well across borders. Finally, in the area of online education, UI strengths coupled with those in our partner institutions in the Midwest may result in future MOOC offerings in less-commonly-taught languages, of which we and our partner institutions offer over 100 combined. Such language training, open to all, could help provide area businesses with a competitive edge in cultural competency.
We also want to take this opportunity to let the people of Ya’an and the Sichuan Province
know that our thoughts are with them in the aftermath of the Saturday’s earthquake.