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Chinese Champagne Courtesy the Commonwealth

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A local headline revised from “Official: City, Wanzhou near trade agreements” to “Chinese delegation makes rounds.” A trade deal that cannot be made public until finalized.  No participation by Bill Bolling. The benefit: an invitation to participate in a year-long garden exposition in Chongqing. Where’s the ROI?

“I hope we can develop business relationships and promote better understanding of the Chinese culture and people. We’re all human beings living on the same planet.” – Waynesboro Mayor Frank Lucente

There are countless visits and relationships like the one in Waynesboro across the United States. Harmless on their face, possibly even beneficial. But you’d bet the Mayor of Waynesboro and his business delegation and their counterparts nationwide haven’t read their Sun Tzu. And if the “executive deputy governor” of Wanzhou was present, where was someone representing the Commonwealth? How about the fellow appointed by the Governor as the chief jobs officer? While Wanzhou is not technically a state, it has a population if 1.6 million (a tad bit larger than Augusta county’s) and the Chongquing exposition is a function of a direct-controlled municipality; translate: a Bejing economic functionary.

“We have a very good first impression of Waynesboro,” said Bai Wennong, executive deputy governor of Wanzhou. “It’s very beautiful.”

Wennong said the delegates are especially interested in opportunities to import agricultural products from the Valley.

Agricultural products? A trade success? For the Chinese, maybe.

China has evolved as a peer competitor of the United States mastering leverage. The first Boeing 747 delivered to China ala Nixon was dismantled and reverse-engineered. This technique of R & D is very efficient and is characteristic of many Chinese business “relationships.” Maybe that is what they were really after during the visit to Barren Ridge Vineyards in Fishersville. Somehow I doubt the Chinese will ever be deterred from using the appellation no matter the objections of the French, so we can all look forward to popping the cork of a bottle of fine Chongquing Champagne or Chardonnay at a very reasonable price. Nevertheless, what is missing in this whole episode is the: What’s in it for Waynesboro and Virginia? Sales of agricultural products? To a land-locked province in China?

The bottom line: the Chinese are casting a wide economic net. A visit like this may yield nothing at all or it may yield an innovation that can be reverse-engineered and mass produced. This is the tip of the economic iceberg. Shortly the Chinese government will own at least one seat on the General Motors board of directors. We have let our guard down and been sold down the river by the “free market” adherents. This is not a call for trade barriers, but to bring our A-game. Bill Bolling’s failure to be a part of this, however, shows that we are not even on the field; we’ve left it to the stadium crew.  

  • kindler

    While it’s certainly true that the Chinese have skillfully taken advantage of the blindness of American free-trade fundamentalism and our utter lack of an industrial policy, the solution is not to pooh-pooh sister city and other trade agreements.

    We simply have to negotiate based on reality rather than ideology. And part of that means adapting to the world of today, in which China is a major player, rather than living in the 1950s with our Repub friends, where the US is always #1 and every other culture is known mainly thru corny Hollywood stereotypes.

    One of the reasons we should welcome contact with the Chinese is that — shocker — we actually have a few things we can learn from them.  Like get our fat asses out of Mcdonald’s, stop writhing in self-pity and denial, and remember again how to be entrepreneurial, hard-working survivors.  It’s not their fault they’re beating us — it’s ours.  

  • richmonder

    As I recall when I checked on this several years ago, there were numerous local governments in Virginia with similar relations with Chinese cities. Unlike Waynesboro, most appear to be inactive. Yet it’s not clear that anyone in state government is keeping track or that Virginia’s trade office in Hong Kong is monitoring these either. It would be useful to have a response from our public officials to clarify state policy. There’s a cautionary tale from Italy where Chinese investors have taken over an entire industry in the heartland of Tuscany, as the NYT reported recently.