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Diplomacy in Action

Memorandum of Understanding: U.S.-China Governors Forum to Promote Subnational Cooperation

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 

Washington, DC
January 25, 2011

Date: 01/25/2011 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Reta Jo Lewis, Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of State briefs on the Memorandum of Understanding: U.S.-China Governors Forum to Promote Subnational Cooperation at the Washington Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image

2:00 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Good afternoon and thank you all very much for coming. I see a lot of familiar faces in the audience today. Today, we have with us Special Representative Reta Jo Lewis, and she is from the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. She’s going to discuss with you all the MOU between the U.S. and China.

Just a few ground rules. Special Representative Lewis will first give remarks and then we’re going to allow for questions. When you ask questions, I ask for everyone to please state your name and then your news organization. And this is, of course, for the transcript.

So without further ado, we’ll turn the floor over to Special Representative Lewis.

MS. LEWIS: First of all, I want to say good afternoon and thank you for joining us here today.

As so many of you know, and for those of you that do not, the Secretary actually released her statement today on the MOU signing. And one of the things that Secretary Clinton has said is that for two years, the Obama Administration has made it a priority to strengthen the bonds between the United States and China. We have worked to extend mutual undertaking, understanding, and interest beyond national government to individuals, businesses, and state and provincial governments. So today, it gives me great pleasure to be here to elaborate on the relationship that is so important for the United States and the Obama Administration.

As you know, last week, during President Hu’s visit, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang signed, on January 19th, a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Establishment of a U.S.-China Governors Forum to Promote Sub-national Cooperation. The U.S.-China Governors Forum is a collaboration that the Department of State and my office, the Office of the Special Representative of Global Intergovernmental Affairs, have been collaborating very, very closely with our U.S. ambassador to China, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, and our EAP China team to establish a forum to serve as a platform to promote what we call peer-to-peer exchanges between United States governors and Chinese provincial party secretaries and governors on topics of mutual interest.

The topics that we have seen of mutual interest have been, of course, trade and investment issues, energy and the environment, tourism, education, and other issues of mutual interest, just to name a few. We have been so delighted that the U.S.-China Governors Forum will be co-convened by the National Governors Association and with Madam Li and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

In that light, in November/December, I traveled with a delegation to China to meet with the central and provincial leaders. We visited the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Changsha, and Chengdu. As a result of that visit, we now know that this forum is going to be co-convened starting with a delegation in February here in Washington, D.C. at the governors meeting.

The United States and China have been cooperating at the sub-national level for over 10 years. In 2010 alone, there were at least eight governors and numerous other officials from our cities and towns that led trade delegations to China. And there were more than a hundred visits by various Chinese provincial officials to the United States. Some of our state governors that went to China last year included California, Delaware, Washington state, Georgia, and Texas.

So as U.S. and China state and local governments have established numerous cooperative relationships, we now understand that there are over 36 sister provinces and states, and over 161 pairs of sister city to university exchanges, as well as eco- partnerships that have been fostered on energy and environment cooperation. Our role was to be one to facilitate and to recognize that our – that both governments want to see more cooperation on a sub-national level, because we understand that the United States and China, as the Secretary has said, and I quote, “face many similar changes, challenges, and opportunities.”

And with that, I open it up for questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. So for the question-and-answer period, again, if you could please state your name and your news organization. So with that, do we have questions?

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I’m Lauren McGaughy from the Asahi Shimbun. It’s a Japanese newspaper. Can you give us some more details on what kind of deliverables you expect from the upcoming February meeting? Is it going to be more city sister type things, or is it going to be moving forward into maybe more business-related things? Thank you.

MS. LEWIS: One of the things that we are seeing from this relationship is that between the governors themselves and the friendship – and their counterpart, the Friendship Association, the February meeting is going to be the real first structured exchange that will take place. And so the delegation that will come from China – and invitations have been extended to the Hunan Party Secretary Zhou to attend – this is going to give them the first real opportunity in February to talk about the things of mutual interest, and to then outline for both sides as they go forward in what we considered a much more thorough or a more comprehensive exchange at their summer – at the NGA’s summer meeting inUtah.

And so from the – I think the first deliverable, to answer your question directly, is this is the start of the relationship. And we are just delighted that both organizations are – as they have done in the past on numerous other engagements that they have always been engaged in, this is the first time that both governments are really not only totally supporting that, but are there to try to show – to also encourage and engage and facilitate other resources that we may be able to also bring to the table.

QUESTION: Liming Yang from China Youth Daily. You mentioned the exchange between the universities. Could you elaborate a little bit, how do you facilitate such kind of exchange?

MS. LEWIS: One of the things that we have seen is that it’s very expensive for officials on both sides to travel. It’s very difficult sometimes for our U.S. governors to be traveling. But we know, and we have seen the fruits of and the benefits of foreign travel. When they have traveled, normally, a lot of them take – it doesn’t matter whether it’s the governors, it could be other delegations – their university presidents and chancellors also participate. And so while we were in China visiting those – the six provinces, they specifically talked to us about a number of the ongoing relationships, not only at some of the universities that are commonly known, but at other universities that they also want to be able to educate our U.S. leaders about.

And so I think it would be a good opportunity where there are some specialties, there are some technical expertise in terms of some different universities, whether it’s here in the U.S. or in China, that our leaders in their role – because so many of them, especially from the public universities’ perspective, have the ability to make sure that our leaders here are educated on the different opportunities and the different types of programs and the different types of schools, as well as it’s going to give our State Department an opportunity, as the Secretary has written to all of the governors and a number of officials, about our 100,000 Strong program so that we can continue to encourage U.S. students to travel abroad.

So we look at this as an opportunity for education. It’s an opportunity for both sides about their universities that may not be as commonly known, but are as sophisticated and is excellent at any of our universities that they may know. It’s an opportunity to see them engage in new relationships. And we think that having an ability to be educated about what they offer each on both sides will be very beneficial in this relationship.

MODERATOR: Okay. Do we have other questions? Okay, back.

QUESTION: Shu Han with China Radio International. And we all know that the trade imbalance between China and the U.S. is a very important problem. And will this forum help to solve this problem, and would you please elaborate the efforts the forum will do? Thank you.

MS. LEWIS: We understand that and we’ve always said it is – it’s – China is so important to our relationship and our bilateral relationship is so strong, as you’ve seen from the recent visit of the president. This sub-national engagement will be another level of actors on both sides to talk about trade and investment issues, economic development issues that go in both ways. And when our governors and others travel, one of the most important things for them is to always be in that trade and investment conversation or dialogue as they talk about the businesses that they’re trying to promote. As you always know, the private sector constantly travels with these delegations that the state officials participate in, and so there is – as well as on the Chinese side.

So we believe that there is a mutuality of interests there that would go both sides that will, hopefully, we believe, be able to go deeper in what we are facilitating in this particular platform. And we believe that it’s in a structured way; the relationships now cannot just be a one-off, that this can be something that these organizations will continue to foster and to grow. And with the signing of the MOU by Secretary Clinton and the Foreign Minister Yang, both governments are saying that we want to make sure that we serve as a resource for our sub-national leaders.

QUESTION: Guan Yan Li from 21st Century Business Herald, the leading bi-national daily in China. Could you please give us a more detailed introduction about the functions of the governors forum – I mean how it works – because in previous years, the Chinese governors quoted – communicated directly with U.S. governors. So what would happen?

MS. LEWIS: Absolutely. And this support and this platform and this effort is not to supplant any effort that has been ongoing. As I said, there are over 36 state-to-provincial relationships that have been going on for years. And we want to continue to encourage that. We want to make sure that they know that our embassies are there to help and facilitate in the types of things that they’re doing. Our embassies in terms of working with Ambassador Huntsman, as you know, who was a former governor of Utah, truly understands the challenges that any U.S. governor goes when – undergoes when he or she is taking a delegation out of the United States. It doesn’t matter where they’re traveling to.

So we want to continue to support it. We want to continue to highlight it. We want to – we’re not – we want to be – and we want to continue to be a resource. And we want to be a stronger resource to help them be much more efficient. We know that a lot of times, people can only travel one time a year, and we really are here to educate them on all of the resources. As President Obama has said, we’re trying to – we are operating as a whole-of-government approach in this effort. And that’s why, from an interagency perspective, all of us are at the table. This is a direct outgrowth of an interest that came out of the United States and China Strategic Dialogue in our second forum that took place. And so at that time, the Department of State, working in conjunction with our partners at Commerce and Treasury and other agencies, have been talking about how we, as agency officials, work with the private sector, how we work with sub-nationals, how we work with the central government in the support of this.

And I think, as you see, this effort is a continuation to kick-start this initiative. It’s a continuation of building the momentum as this moves forward, and to allow them to understand that this exchange is a platform that – people are busy and they want to cut right to the relationships that they need. And that’s why we believe in the peer-to-peer exchanges that will take place, first starting with governors. There’s ideas down the road about other officials who have constantly been traveling back and forth to China. And we’ve seen, since we have started this engagement and the start of my – the office that I lead for Secretary Clinton, people are really coming to us more to learn about and to become more educated about how they can develop new networks, new relationships, how we can also have – give them other contacts throughout the government here to assist them in their work in China.

QUESTION: Thank you, Min Lee with Phoenix TV. So what are the issues that U.S. governors – when they go over to China, what are the main issues they want to work with the Chinese side?

MS. LEWIS: It actually varies. And I think that was one of the reasons why I went to China, to be able to sit down with those party secretaries and the governors and one of the vice mayors, to listen to them. And I think it’s very important that this is a mutual interest. It is not a one-sided, just about the United States or just about China. It’s about all of us working in tandem together to achieve an objective.

And so that’s why some of the same issues started coming up – job creation, how do you grow one’s GDP, how do you work with transparency issues, how do you work with – of course, trade and investment, like I said, and economic development issues are always number one. How do you work on issues dealing with climate change? Our states and localities here in the United States have been very, very aggressive and very active in that area, and we know that stakeholders like sub-national leaders are going to be – have been participating in that.

And so it is – whether it’s creating jobs or educating our children or talking about how we grow trade and investment, we understand that sub-national leaders – it doesn’t matter whether it’s in China or United States or around the world, they’re all facing the same challenges and they’re also looking for solutions. And in that – and it’s in that discussion, it is in that dialogue, that we hope to continue to support and foster that solutions can come out of that, engagements can come out of that, new relationships that can be built over years. It is not a one-shot effort.

So building on the 10 years that our leaders have been working together over a period of time, going forward, the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton, with their counterparts, President Hu and Foreign Minister Yang, this is a effort to – we continue to say we kick-started it, we’re moving it, we’re trying to move it forward, we want to be there to help, we want to be there to assist. And we want to see sustained effort take place, and we want to be able to see connections that will grow into regular opportunities.

And so just as I listened early on to governor after governor or leader after leader tell me about the different places in the world that they are engaged in and that matter to their particular community, I went to China and did the exact same thing and listened to those six provincial government party secretaries and governors and their teams talk about the issues and the commonalities that they share with places like Washington state, with places like the state of Delaware, with places like the state of Georgia, with places like New York and others.

And we are seeing that this can continue to be a momentum building as we continue in the development and the deepening of our relationship with each other, with the United States, and with China.

MODERATOR: Okay. Other questions? Okay. Well, with that, I would like to thank Special Representative Lewis for her time, and thank you all as well.

MS. LEWIS: Can I – actually, one second? One of the things that Secretary Clinton has always said and President Obama has said is that in this 21st century diplomacy, that with a – especially in this China relationship, it is about, as you know, positive, cooperative, and comprehensive. And so when we look at this sub-national engagement, it’s directly right in line with that, and that’s why we were so delighted when it was announced by the Secretary, it was announced by the White House, and it has been announced in China by our counterparts, and so with the work that we hope to do and support – because we are there as a facilitator; we understand that that work needs to be sustained.

And so working with our organizations, we want to be there to support them in the beginning of this relationship as it moves forward and continuing to build, with the United States and our bilateral relationship with China, the continuation of one that is positive, that is one that is comprehensive, and that is one that is cooperative, and one with our state governments that have been going on for years, and we want to be there to support that. And that’s what I believe that the signing of this MOU has continued to foster. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, one last chance for questions before we close. All right. And for your reference, as you come in, on the table, there is some additional information regarding the MOU. Thank you.

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