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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Have a MI-China Plan? If Not, You’re Not ready for Governor!

September 15, 2017 

Next week I return to China to recharge my batteries by reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.  I have traveled extensively throughout China for nearly three decades with a lifelong interest in China’s culture, history, and bridge-building between our two nations – especially with my home state of Michigan – sparked by my fourth-grade teacher. It is an interest that remains as white hot today for me as it was in that classroom nearly half a century ago.

But exactly where do Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates stand on China?  I wonder if they understand the importance of this relationship that has been nurtured by many leaders over the past few decades in Michigan.  As the 21st century unfolds, it is clear that what happens in China does not stay in China.  The China wave continues to roll up—not just on our shores, but on shores around the world. 

Our choices are two: We can do nothing (like previous administrations) or learn to surf and ride the China wave.

We could stand to have a few more policymakers who grasp the importance of our building relationships with Chinese officials from commerce, tourism, education, healthcare, the environment, and government.  China and the U.S. are the two major powers in the world today and the relationship between our two nations is vitally important.  Every major world issue (think “North Korea”) will intersect at the corner of Washington, D.C. and Beijing.

Chinese Consul General, Hong Lei and Rick Snyder, Governor of the State of Michigan

Michigan has been strategic for the last seven years and has learned how to assure that China’s rise does not come at the expense of their demise.  But how is this longstanding relationship paying off for our Great Lake State?  In 2016, Michigan ranked second in the nation for the sheer number of investment projects from China.  Michigan also ranked third in the nation for the number of jobs created by Chinese investment, and fourth for total capital investment. Between January 2010 and July 2017, Michigan received $1.1 billion in new business investment from China that created 5,475 jobs for Michigan residents – an ROI (return on investment) we can all be proud of. http://m.leaderpub.com/2017/08/04/gov-snyder-visits-china-to-discuss-investment-opportunities-in-michigan/

A Labor Leader’s Legacy

Michigan has a proud history of building bridges with China.

There are several initiatives underway now at multiple levels to build on Michigan’s ties to China. One critical and historic initiative is the Ambassador Leonard Woodcock Legacy.  Former United Automobile Workers Union President and Michigan resident Leonard Woodcock was chosen by President Jimmy Carter to serve as an envoy to China in 1977. Woodcock served as the first ambassador to China 1979–80. The Ambassador Leonard Woodcock Legacy is located at Oakland University. 

 “The Woodcock Legacy provides support to education, business and government leaders in the area and facilitates cross cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China, the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century”, said Mel Gilroy, Co-Chairman of the Woodcock Legacy.

Gilroy points out, “The importance of good relations between China and USA is critical to global geopolitical stability.  We must work together to advance common interests and strive to address our differences constructively.”

“Many have been active and engaged in Michigan in building this important bridge. No one has been as important in assuring Michigan is not an afterthought in China than our Governor Rick Snyder.”

A Positive Bridge: Hong Lei, China’s Consul General

Chinese Consul General Hong Lei, from the Consulate in Chicago, has been a good friend of both the Ambassador Woodcock Legacy and the State of Michigan. He is the keynote speaker this week for the 25th Anniversary of the Woodcock Legacy. Consul General Hong Lei has said that Ambassador Leonard Woodcock was posted to China at a crucial time and played an important role in the historic breakthrough in China-U.S. relations.”

Now, he is equally enthused about the 25-year Ambassador Leonard Woodcock Legacy, saying that it has dedicated itself for 25 years to promoting exchanges and cooperation between Michigan and China: “With the joint efforts of both sides, China has become one of Michigan’s most important partners. Governor Snyder’s seventh annual visit to China has just injected new impetus to this dynamic relationship. I look forward to joining hands with Governor Snyder, the Woodcock Legacy, and friends from all circles to lift our relations to the next level.”

A Good Hand Off

As the Snyder Administration reaches its end, we need a hand off to the new administration—whether Democrat or Republican—that does not break Michigan’s fragile tie to China. This relationship is too important to our state on multiple levels not to be handled with care.

Now is not too early for Governor Snyder to begin the transition for the eventual hand- off of this monumental effort. He can begin by introducing would-be governors to this Michigan-Chinese relationship and keep the momentum going. Because of his efforts, Snyder has earned the respect and friendship of Chinese leaders and is assuring a clean hand-off to his successor – a tremendous responsibility. 

There once was a time when what happened in China had minimal impact on our lives. Those days are gone forever. Today what happens in China no longer stays in China – the U.S. feels not only the ripple effects of their economic policy but must anticipate global change as the 21st century unfolds. How we adapt to and lead the changes that are coming will define our state and nation.

“It is critical that Michigan does not lose the momentum it has built up the past 7 years under Governor Snyder’s leadership”, says Jerry Xu, president of Michigan U.S./China Exchange Center. “Regardless of who our next governor is, now is not too early to understand how vital this relationship is to our collective futures and to start building the guan xi necessary to keep this relationship strong.”

Michigan’s next leader must follow the cautionary approach embodied in Deng Xiaoping’s idea, “Mozhe shitou guo he”: “Crossing the river by feeling for stones.”  In this case, the stones that Governor Snyder has carefully laid out for Michigan’s future.  My hope is we will continue to build the educational, economic, scientific, governmental, and people-to-people exchanges between Michigan and China that will enhance the friendship and trust that is necessary for BOTH Michigan and China to prosper.

The Chinese want and need everything we have in Michigan – from automotive know-how, agricultural products, access to education, and a pristine environment – to health care, tourism and so much more.  Going backward on this vital and beneficial relationship that Snyder has cultivated would not only be a shame but would come at a high cost to Michigan’s investment as the 21st century unfolds.

Jobs and investment go where they are wanted and nurtured. Michigan needs enlightened leaders to continue building this important relationship that can and WILL provide dividends and win-win opportunities for both Michigan and China. 

Media’s Mission, Should They Decide to Accept It

The media needs to hold the gubernatorial candidates’ feet to the fire in 2018, asking them where they stand on continuing the path that Governor Snyder has successfully laid out in China.  Treating China as an election year bogeyman – as a way to scare up votes – is not only archaic but should not be tolerated in Michigan’s election cycle. We have come too far to turn back our backs on the world.

Author,Tom Watkins in China
T- Shirt reads “Michigan” in Chinese

Candidates: If you don’t have a thoughtful plan or are now thinking about how you plan to forge solid relationships with China in order to continue to produce jobs and investment in Michigan, then you are not ready to serve as the Governor of this great state.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools 2001-05 and as the special assistant to the President of Wayne State University 1990-96. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


September 14, 2017 · Filed under Tom Watkins



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