Chinese consul general talks US-China trade, diplomacy at MU event

Hong Lei, the consul general of the Consulate General of China in Chicago and a man whose career in diplomacy spans more than 25 years, discussed the current and future relationship between the U.S. and China during a visit to the University of Missouri.

Hong started his April 24 speech by recognizing a strong presence of Chinese students and culture on MU’s campus, and he gave a nod to the robust academic relationship between the university and China.

He went on to address three main topics: the recent meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping; the growth and impact of the trade relationship between the two countries; and the future of U.S.-China relations.

Trump and Xi

Hong discussed the meeting between Trump and Xi held at Trump’s Florida resort in early April, summarizing some of the issues covered by the heads of state when they convened.

According to Hong, the presidents strengthened mutual understanding and trust, and they confirmed development directions and principles of U.S.-China relations.

In the presidents’ meeting, priority fields and mechanisms of bilateral cooperation were laid out as the two leaders agreed to promote healthy development of two-way investment and trade and advance two-way investment agreement negotiations, he said.

Hong said the presidents also agreed on strengthening communication and coordination on international and regional affairs between the two countries.

“As the biggest two economies in the world, both countries share responsibility to safeguard world peace, stability and prosperity,” Hong said.

Hong concluded that the meeting not only achieved a smooth transition of the relationship between the countries but also served as a good start for bilateral relations under the Trump administration.

“We have every reason to believe that this meeting will play an important role in overcoming difficulties, eliminating interferences and moving forward bilateral relations on a right track,” Hong said.

The degree to which the two countries are economically complementary “is far greater than the competition, and the need for cooperation is far greater than the differences,” Hong said.

A growing relationship

Hong spent a portion of his presentation highlighting the growth of the economic relationship between the two countries.

Bilateral trade between the U.S. and China was just $2.45 billion in 1979, he said, and has grown to $570 billion.

In 2016, China was the third-largest market for American exports and the largest trading partner — measured by the combined value of imports and exports between countries — for the U.S.

Hong pointed to the exchange between the countries in higher education. In 1979, students from mainland China were hardly seen on Midwestern university campuses. Now, there are about 1,300 Chinese students at MU, he said, and students from China make up a significant portion of the international population on most Midwestern campuses.

Hong also touched on growing Chinese investment in Missouri and trade between China and Missouri. China is the No. 3 trading partner and No. 3 export market for Missouri. And, according to Hong, Chinese companies have invested around $1.1 billion in Missouri over the last 16 years, creating about 4,500 new jobs.

“Missouri enjoys geographical advantages and has built its own strong industries,” Hong said. “China pays great attention to developing economic and trade ties with Missouri. ”

Future recommendations 

To wrap things up, Hong offered some thoughts on how to better maintain and develop the relationship between the U.S. and China:

  • Both countries need to rise above the difference of our systems, respect each other, learn from each other, live together peacefully and realize common development, he said.
  • China is a peace-loving nation that has no intentions of challenging the U.S., he said. China focuses on development not to overpower others but to improve the standard of living for its people, according to Hong, and needs to stay in harmony with the rest of the world.
  • Both countries should tap into the great potential of China-U.S. cooperation, Hong said, because, in many ways, the countries’ interests are increasingly intertwined.

“Thirty-eight years ago, China and the United States established diplomatic relations and opened a door of friendly exchanges and cooperation between our two countries and peoples,” Hong said. “Looking back at our achievements, we have good reasons to be proud and optimistic. Standing in the new era, we are confident that China and the United States  will make new progress in their relationship and bring more benefits to the peoples of our two countries and the world.”

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