Chamber vital in China, US dialogue

Updated: 2011-07-11 09:27

By He Wei (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - When Ted Hornbein first celebrated American Independence Day in China in the early 1990s, there was only a handful of people invited to the party at the US embassy in Beijing.

On the guest list were a few reporters, several foreign student representatives and one or two businessmen, he recalled. Western food and beverages for the celebration such as McDonald's burgers and milkshakes were flown in specially from Hong Kong.

Chamber vital in China, US dialogue

Peter Vesterbacka, head of the North American operations for Rovio Mobile Ltd, maker of mobile phone game Angry Birds, speaks at the Global Mobile Internet Forum in Beijing. By sharing the experiences of how United States companies operate in China, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai is sending a message that having a US company doing business in China, or encouraging exports to China, is good for the US economy and creates jobs. [Photo/Agencies]

But on this year's July 4, he no longer considered himself to be a lonely expatriate. As a board member on the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai (AmCham Shanghai), he and his colleagues organized an Independence Day celebration fair for around 2,000 guests to share the joy of all Americans living and working in the city.

Hornbein has witnessed phenomenal changes on the Sino-US relations over the past two decades. "Today you have local and Western restaurants and your whole family here with you for the important holiday. Living here is so great that I have seen a 180 degree shift from my first July 4 party in China".

Beatrice Camp, US consul general in Shanghai, echoed this view. As she completes her three-year diplomatic assignment in the country in the coming month, she expressed her gratitude over the tangible progress made by the two sides.

"I have been impressed, in my three years here, by how many areas of life in which we work together. Aside from politics and education, we have seen vibrant cooperation on pharmaceutical technology, security issues, agriculture, et cetera. There isn't any area that we don't work together," Camp told China Daily.


Chamber vital in China, US dialogue

More essential to a benign bilateral relationship is the increased people-to-people exchange, Camp noted. She told guests at the event that in 2011, a quarter of a million visas to the US are expected to be issued by the consulate in Shanghai.

By June, the visa section had witnessed a 40 percent year-on-year growth in the number of visas issued in the East China area, she said, adding that there is an ongoing plan to expand the consulate to accommodate more US visa applicants.

Hornbein and his colleagues were more than delighted to know that China has just recently repealed a policy favoring Chinese companies in government purchases of IT products, something they worked toward.

The private sector has always been a big impetus in maintaining relations on the right track. AmCham Shanghai, home to 3,500 members representing 1,700 American companies in China - and the biggest such organization in Asia - has a notable presence in the local community and represents a strong voice for American business in China.

Because the core of US manufacturing and businesses in the country are heavily concentrated in Shanghai, the organization encourages dialogue between both governments, said David Basmajian, director of communications at AmCham Shanghai.

Among the many endeavors is the annual "Door-Knock" event in September, where AmCham Shanghai puts together its member representatives to lobby Capitol Hill, with reports handed over to decision-makers to "help narrow gaps and create understanding", Basmajian told China Daily.

The Ministry of Finance said last month it would stop enforcing procurement rules that are part of a decade-old "indigenous innovation" campaign to spur the development of domestic technology. The rules required government agencies to favor Chinese makers in six areas including computers and clean power.

"One important thing we do is to identify the concerns of doing business here in China, and provide our suggestions to the US government, which hopefully can lead to positive and pragmatic changes when they consult with their Chinese counterparts," Basmajian said.

By sharing the experiences of how American companies operate in China, the chamber is sending a message that having an American company doing business in China, or encouraging export to China, is good for the United States economy and creates jobs, Basmajian added. "Through this, we encourage the American government to devote more resources to help the companies enhance their competitiveness."

For instance, Hornbein runs his own company, Richco Inc, a plastic manufacturer that has operations in Beijing, Shanghai and some other cities of China as well as in Illinois, in the US. When they make products in China, some of the components have to come from the US, which generates job opportunities back home, Hornbein said.

The organization was vocal in advocating China's entry into the World Trade Organization, and is influential in setting the agenda on some of the key consultation mechanisms between Washington and Beijing, notably the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue.


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