Photo: Chinese Consul General Hong Lei, left, and Brian Connors, Executive Director, Michigan-China Innovation Center
Carol Cain, Detroit Free Press Business Columnist
These are certainly interesting, if not precarious, times for China and the U.S., and the people who working hard to build stronger economic ties between Michigan and the Asian nation.
People like Gov. Rick Snyder, Consul General of the Peoples Republic of China-Chicago Hong Lei, Glenn Stevens, Lisa Gray and Brian Connors who are doing their work in the wake of the saber rattling President Donald Trump did on the campaign trail over what he called a trade imbalance with China and other concerns.
Trump threatened tariffs of 45% on Chinese imports to address the imbalance. And he ruffled some feathers in China when he accepted a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan (the countries are at odds) after the election.
Appearing at a National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday in Washington,Trump repeated his promise that the U.S. will be tougher in dealing with other countries.
“We’re (being) taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually,” Trump said. “It’s not going to happen anymore.”
How much of what Trump said was campaign rhetoric? And how many of his edicts will come to fruition?
Many are holding their breath. Count Connors, executive director of the newly created Michigan-China Innovation Center, among them.
“I’m concerned on behalf of Michigan’s business community and consumers about Trump’s rhetoric on trade policy,” said Connors. “The kinds of tariffs he has threatened in his campaign speeches could severely disrupt global trade and harm the pocketbooks of Michigan households. But beyond that, I have yet to see a coherent long-term strategy with China to go along with his provocative diplomatic moves.”
The Michigan-China Innovation Center opened with a goal of attracting Chinese investment to Michigan. It is being funded by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Currently, Michigan has nearly 200 Chinese-owned firms that contribute more than $3 billion in foreign direct investment.
Jerry Xu, president of the Detroit Chinese Business Association, is taking a longer view about the new world order under Trump.
He says new presidents often go through a rough ride at the beginning of their terms concerning the relationship between the U.S. and China.
“However, the importance of the relationship can be neither ignored nor abused.” Xu said. “I am very hopeful Mr. Trump can cherish the hard-earned good relationship and continue to grow it, which will be beneficial to both countries.”
Both Michigan and China have reasons to want to keep things calm.
Detroit’s auto industry looks to China and its huge and growing middle class with potential to buy millions more cars as a place to grow business.
China seeks places in which to invest, and Michigan — with its enviable engineering prowess and abundance of natural resources — is a ripe market for consideration.
Snyder has been leading the charge to foster more business with China — making the country the destination of his first trade mission upon taking office in 2008. His goal — create more jobs for Michiganders.
Snyder will join hundreds of business, political and community leaders from Michigan and China at two different events Saturday, both celebrating the Chinese New Year in metro Detroit.
The Detroit Chinese Business Association will hold its annual Chinese New Year Gala Celebration at Cobo Center.
In Dearborn, representatives of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago will gather with representatives of the Guangdong Provincial Government, the North American Chinese Coalition (NACC) and numerous other local organizations.
Liang Xinjun, cofounder, vice chairman and CEO of Fosun International, which employs 1,000 people in Michigan, will be the keynote speaker.
Gray, the chair of the NACC, is hopeful about future business relations.
“The president’s tone may impact things in the short term,” Gray said of Trump. But “once the two countries’ representatives start discussing concerns about trade, I believe that the win-win cooperation will continue.”
Consul General Lei, who took over the Consul General job last year, added: “China-U.S. relations are undergoing an important transitional period. As the 10th Consul General of China in Chicago, I’m committed to joining hands with people of all circles in this region to promote our mutually beneficial cooperation and people-to-people friendly exchanges.”
Lei said the Motor City and Great Lakes State are resonating in China. I am sure that has something to do with Mayor Mike Duggan going to China last year along with Gov. Snyder.
Under Duggan and Snyder, “both Michigan and Detroit have carried out extensive cooperation with China and achieved win-win results,” Lei said. “I have full confidence in the future of our friendly cooperation.”
Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, which is part of the Detroit Regional Chamber, agreed that fair trade is vital for business in Michigan and the U.S.
“Open trade and fair trade, with the absence of currency manipulation, are central to the way we do business as a nation, but more specifically to enable U.S. companies to execute globally,” Stevens said.
“We have witnessed a significant amount of Chinese investment in Michigan,” he continued. “As the new administration develops policy it is our hope that it will benefit our state and industry.”