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OP-ED: Why I am going to China
June 17, 2014, 05:00 AM By Michael Brownrigg

Michael Brownrigg

This week, I will be joining 11 other Silicon Valley mayors and vice mayors on a trip to China, the first ever by such a group. Collectively, our cities represent more than 550,000 citizens in the Bay Area, from Millbrae to Morgan Hill, from Union City to Menlo Park; we are headquarters to many iconic American companies, including Apple, Google and Facebook; and we are one of the main gateways to the United States for Asia.

Our trip, being coordinated and underwritten by a nonprofit group called China Silicon Valley, will take the delegation to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Shenzhen in the south. We will be meeting with national government leaders, provincial leaders and mayors; we will also be attending a high-tech event in Wuhan and meeting with various business officials in each of the cities. We look forward to briefings from the U.S. Embassy and consulates on the state of our political, economic and commercial relations with China. We also look forward to soaking in some of China’s culture and historic sites.

Why are we doing this? After all, none of us is a full-time, paid politician; we all have our “real jobs” and families from which we have to arrange time away.

While I cannot speak for the whole delegation, I suspect our motivations are similar. We recognize that the world our kids are moving into is not the world in which we grew up. The days of the United States being the dominant global economy and, let’s face it, dominant global culture are shifting as prosperity grows by leaps in China, Brazil, Mexico and Africa. These “developing markets” are now huge opportunities for our companies but they are also places where we can learn from and interact with on challenges like climate change and fighting terrorism. The United States cannot solve those global issues alone.

Californians, and Westerners in general, have a lot to contribute in this regard. I know from my experience in Washington, D.C., that the eastern seaboard of our country looks to Europe first and, for many of them, Africa is their nearest developing market. Here in the West, by contrast, our natural affinity is toward Asia and Latin America. Some say the 20th century was the Atlantic Century and the 21st will be the Pacific Century. If so, then we need western political and business leaders to help chart the way. This trip to China is one such initiative.

We also know that relations with Chinese officials and businesses are not built on lawyers or dollar bills. China is a culture built on trust more than contracts. And trust cannot be bought — it has to be earned, one cup of tea at a time. I was asked by one journalist (not with the Daily Journal!) whether I thought Burlingame was competing with our sister cities on this trip for “spoils” from China. Far from it, I replied — we are each building our own trusted relations with our hosts and starting what will be a longer journey toward mutual prosperity.

That said, we in Burlingame have a special historical tie to China. The man who gave our city its name, Anson Burlingame, was the first American ambassador to China, appointed in 1861 by President Lincoln. Ambassador Burlingame was so respected in China that when his tour was over, the Chinese government asked him to be their ambassador back to the United States! I’m not sure that has ever happened. Burlingame proved himself a friend of American democracy and diplomacy and I am proud to carry that mantle back to China with our delegation. And I hope that one day we might be able to build a statue in a new Town Square to Anson Burlingame recalling his contributions to U.S.-China relations.

Those are some of the reasons I am traveling to China. There may not be much that is concrete from the trip upon our return, yet I know that we will have moved the ball forward toward peace, prosperity and partnership on the challenges that confront us.

Michael Brownrigg is the mayor of Burlingame and the founder of Total Impact Advisors, a merchant bank for impact investment. The Delegation comprises mayors and vice mayors from Burlingame, Cupertino, East Palo Alto, Hayward, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Moraga, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Oakley, Scotts Valley and Union City.

 

 

Tags: china, burlingame, mayors, delegation, united, relations,


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