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Building more productive ties to China

Panel says partnerships, education and trust are keys to bridging cultural gap

Buechner Breakfast panelists talk about "Colorado and China -- Partnerships for Tomorrow"

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER - The path to a productive relationship with China lies in cultural, educational and economic partnerships, panelists said at a Buechner Breakfast First Friday session this morning.

The discussion, "Colorado and China -- Partnerships for Tomorrow," wraps up this academic year's Buechner Breakfast series. The series, presented by the Buechner Institute for Governance in the School of Public Affairs, will resume in September.

Panelists at today's breakfast in the Terrace Room were Larry Harte, executive director of the Greater Glendale Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of Glendale; Ding-Wen Hsu, president of Pacific Western Technologies Ltd.; and Ji Chen, director of China Initiatives in the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

The panel was moderated by Alice Madden, Wirth Chair in Sustainable Development, who pointed out how cross-cultural dynamics enrich Colorado: International students contribute more than $300 million to the state economy annually, including $28 million at CU Denver.

Much of the discussion focused on bridging cultural differences between China and the United States and expanding business and educational opportunities for citizens of both countries.

Harte said that his daughter's kindergarten class, where tutoring is available for 29 languages, illustrates the shrinking of the globe. "That's the future -- communicating with people on the other side of the world," he said. "Whether it's social, language or economic barriers, that's maybe the largest challenge any country in the world faces. It has to be a focus of all of ours right now."

He noted that U.S. businesses continue to expand into China, home to 1.39 billion people, because of lower costs. "In the end it comes down to tax incentives and labor costs," Harte said. "It's unfortunate we can't use the phrase 'American made' more than we do, but in a lot of ways it reflects the global economy."

Ji Chen, a native of China, talked about CU Denver's ties to China through its partnership with the International College Beijing, one of the first partnerships of its kind to be approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education. "There's still a lot of misunderstanding between China and America," he said. "We (in academia) can be an important bridge to that gap."

He explained that China is in the 12th iteration of its five-year plan and it keys on innovation, research and education. Those areas of investment translate into global opportunities for Colorado companies, especially those in biotechnology, new energy and clean-energy vehicles. "There are great implications for companies in Colorado because we have a lot of small- to medium-sized companies," Chen said.

He said the No. 1 reason for U.S. companies to move operations to China is to capture the local market. Still, large companies, such as General Motors, have a long way to go to deliver products to meet the vast demand.

During the Q&A session, an audience member pointed out that during the 1970s the entire Chinese economy was about the size of California's. Now, it's close to surpassing the United States. He asked the panel: How will we compete?

Ding-Wen, also a native of China, said Eastern culture is more about collaboration and less about the individual drive to compete and win. Meanwhile, the United States leads in individual creativity and pioneering technological development. Instead of competing, the countries should work on synergy -- maximizing each others' strengths. "The world is getting smaller and smaller, and if we all collaborate and work with each other, everybody wins," Ding-Wen said.

Harte agreed, saying the path forward lies in partnerships. "What it really comes down to in my mind is connections -- bridging the diversity gaps. It takes time to build those levels of trust."

Ding-Wen said open-mindedness about cultural connections -- another strength of the United States -- is essential. "Today the target (for understanding) is China. Tomorrow it could be India. So we can never stop learning."

(Photo: Panelists from left are Larry Harte, former mayor of Glendale, Ding-Wen Hsu, president of Pacific Western Technologies Ltd., Ji Chen, director of China Initiatives in CU Denver's Business School, and moderator Alice Madden.)