Revealing tale of two Washingtons

Updated: 2012-02-10 08:07

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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During my two trips to Seattle, Washington, I was often reminded by local government officials and business leaders that this Washington is not "the other Washington".

By saying the other Washington, they meant Washington D.C., home to the White House, Capitol Hill and numerous federal government buildings.

Revealing tale of two Washingtons
The desire to distance themselves from the Washington that is home to the US political institutions is not surprising if you consider that the public approval rating for the US Congress hit a record low of 9 percent last October according to a New York Times poll. The result of a Gallup poll released on Wednesday looks equally dismal at 10 percent, down from 13 percent in January. The 17 percent average rating for 2011 is also the lowest yearly average rating for the Congress recorded by Gallup.

Americans increasingly use the word "dysfunctional" to describe the deep divide between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well as the contention between the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the White House.

In the tug-of-war between the parties, nothing seems to get done. This will be especially true this year as the two parties are drumming up support for the presidential election.

There will be numerous negative political advertisements in the coming months as Republican presidential candidates attack each other in their bid to secure the nomination. And whoever the Republican nominee is, he will then engage in another round of crossfire with President Barack Obama.

As I walked into a building on K Street in Washington on Thursday to meet a once important political figure, I could feel why everything in this city is so politically charged and ideologically tinged.

In the other Washington on the Pacific Northwest, the mood is different. Governor Chris Gregoire is more pragmatic and down-to-earth in welcoming foreign investors and boosting trade. China has become the largest export market for the state.

I have found a similar down-to-earth attitude among other local leaders I have met over the past two years. During a time of financial crisis and high unemployment, they are eager to create jobs and they have no time to waste in the kind of ideological battle going on in Washington D.C.

In the state of Iowa, which Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping will visit next week, Governor Terry Branstad is just as pragmatic. He told reporters this week that he intends to talk trade with Xi, who is paying a return visit to Muscatine, a small town he visited in 1985 as Party secretary of Zhengding county of Hebei province. In that year, Branstad was also the governor.

Like many US states, Iowa has benefited enormously from its trade with China. Its exports to China exploded by almost 1,300 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Branstad himself led an Iowa trade mission to China to promote ties in September.

While talks with President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and other US leaders in Washington are important to bilateral relations, the local visits will be no less significant, because it will help the American public to understand China better and vice versa.

Watching the daily political dramas coming from Washington D.C. is often like watching a reality TV series. It is the Washington state, which borders Canada and which has many national forests and national parks such as the Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, that is closer to real America.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. Email: