More than 150 students, local Chinese-American residents, professors from around the country and business leaders from around the world gathered Saturday morning in Robertson Auditorium for the third annual Michigan China Forum. The forum began with an opening ceremony and the Sino-US panel. Throughout the weekend, more than 1,300 people registered to participate in these two events, a career fair, a business pitch competition and panels on sports, business, education and the environment.
Michigan China Forum, a not for profit student organization registered with the Ross School of Business, organized the annual one-and-a-half day conference with support from the Ross Global Initiatives Program and in partnership with U-M Chinese Scholars and Students Association, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Student and Alumni Association and China Entrepreneurship Network, among others.
In his opening remarks, Peter Shang, Michigan China Forum co-president and LSA junior, said the goal of the forum is to foster dialogue about Sino-U.S. related issues and develop future leaders for a globally interconnected world.
“The mission of the Michigan China Forum is to connect Michigan with China by inviting key figures across different industries to discuss the latest and most controversial topics,” Shang said. “We’re committed to empowering future leaders of the United States, China and beyond to excel in the global landscape. The forum will serve as a platform for students and young professionals across different cultures to gain insights, dispel biases and engage in inspiring dialogues.”
Ray Cao, Michigan China Forum co-president and Engineering senior, elaborated on this year’s conference theme.
“This year our forum has the theme of ‘Empower the Transformation,’ which reflects the ongoing, unprecedented changes that’s happened with the Sino-US relationship,” Cao said. “Michigan China Forum will help connect industry leaders with future victors to face all the chief challenges and welcome all the transformations.”
Brian Wu, Ross China Initiatives faculty director and associate professor of strategy, gave a brief overview of the history between the University and China. Wu explained the third University President James Angell was also a U.S. minister to China. According to Wu, Angell convinced the U.S. government to return a 1901 war indemnity to China, which helped fund Tsinghua University, China’s top academic institution, and provided scholarships for Chinese students to study abroad.
However, Angell’s involvement in drafting exclusionary immigration policy in the late 1800s has warranted criticism. Angell negotiated the Angell Treaty in 1880, an agreement with China permitting the United States to restrict but not entirely ban Chinese immigration. The Angell Treaty formed the basis of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which ended immigration of both skilled and unskilled Chinese laborers for 10 years and required every Chinese person traveling to and from the United States to carry identification.
In addition, according to Wu, when the Chinese table tennis team visited the United States in 1972 in what has been dubbed “ping-pong diplomacy” — the thawing of Cold War tensions between the U.S. and China after each country’s national ping pong team was invited and travelled to the other country — the University was its first stop. In 2017, University faculty organized the 45th anniversary celebration of ping-pong diplomacy.
In his welcome speech, Brad Killaly, Associate Dean of Ross Global Programs and clinical assistant professor of strategy, expressed the mission of the Michigan China Forum aligns with the mission of both the Business School and the larger University in promoting understanding and cooperation.
“Regardless of how we may feel in the discourse around in the world now with potentially a lack of understanding across boundaries and borders, events such as this are absolutely critical in changing representation of a boxing match to one of handshakes,” Killaly said. “And our role and our responsibility here at the Ross School of Business and of our entire University is to in fact build an entire world of handshakes, optimism and positive change.”
Zhao Jian, consul general of China in Chicago, delivered the keynote speech, in which he highlighted the economic growth of China in the last 70 years. He noted China is the world’s second largest economy and has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Jian said China’s development is a result of the hard work and wisdom of the Chinese people.
According to Zhao Jian, China is devoted to open cooperation as global relationships benefit China and the rest of the world depends on China.
“China is committed to deepening reform and opening wider to the world,” Zhao Jian said. “Openness brings progress while seclusion leads to backwardness. China cannot develop itself in isolation from the world, and the world needs China for global prosperity.”
Zhao Jian expressed the Sino-U.S. relationship has been key in addressing a number of issues, including counterterrorism, trade, environmental protection, disease control and moon exploration. Going forward, though much has changed, Zhao Jian emphasized the importance of cooperation between China and the United States.
“The importance of this bilateral relationship to welfare of the people of our two countries and the broader international community has not changed,” Zhao Jian said. “This is a relationship between the largest developing country and the largest developed country, actually the only superpower in the world … We both stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation.”
Sino-U.S. Relations Panel
The Sino-U.S. Relations Panel was held immediately following the Opening Ceremony. Moderated by LSA junior Ian Wang, the panel centered around three major themes: nationalism and political development, politics of the Sino-U.S. trade relation and conflicts and cooperation.
Panel members included Wu; Suisheng Zhao, University of Denver professor of Chinese politics and foreign policy; Ronald Inglehart, professor emeritus of political science; Jerry Lou, founder and CEO of Everpine Capital; and Shunri Guo, CEO and co-founder of ParcelX.
Inglehart explained the roots of nationalism stem from the majority of human history in which war and land conquests meant survival in an agricultural-based, land-scarce world. However, Inglehart repeatedly emphasized industrialization and modernization have changed international relations significantly — a country’s success is no longer dependent on land occupation but on technological development and innovation, which flourish with international cooperation. Thus, according to Inglehart, though nationalism provides internal cohesion, it is dangerous in its fear of foreigners and has no rational basis in modern society.
“Modernization has changed the world in a very fundamental way … (that is) emotionally not grasped,” Inglehart said. “But the knee-jerk xenophobia feeling, that if they rise, they are going to conquer and enslave us, is still around. And that’s why we get this American paranoia about the development of China. … As the two most powerful economies in the world, the problems are big enough that no one power can bring peace and prosperity alone. … So updating the psychological reality to correspond to the objective reality is hugely important.”
Discussion of the Sino-U.S. trade relations featured debate among panel members regarding fairness of trade relations and what entities, if any, should regulate this trade.
Though Lou stated he agrees with U.S. concerns over intellectual property and technology transfer, he condemned the idea of Chinese protectionism.
“The biggest misperception of China today is Chinese protectionism,” Lou said. “China opened up its market when China needed U.S. investment the most and China really bended its own rules. For decades, American capitalists were supercitizens in China. They enjoyed privileged policies and taxes and protection even better than the local companies. That was the status quo until this government recently changed it.”
To much audience applause, Lou said he believes foreign businessmen are struggling without privileges but need to learn to operate as Chinese businesses always have.
“(U.S. businessmen) cannot compete when these privileges are taken away,” Lou said. “U.S. companies need to learn and become mainstream culture players instead of being on the sidelines. … U.S. businessmen need to be politically more savvy, locally more responsible and more agile, and they need to connect to the real Chinese community … just like a real Chinese company. And let me ask you, how wrong is that?”
Suisheng Zhao addressed Lou’s points, noting many U.S. complaints are not at the scale of individual firms but center around market entry barriers for industries such as finance and technology. Suisheng Zhao also discussed the uneven competition between foreign private companies versus Chinese state-owned companies, which are heavily subsidized by the Chinese government.
To describe the current Sino-U.S. relationship on the international stage, Lou used the analogy of the U.S. banishing China from its rightful seat at a global dinner banquet.
“U.S. held its own banquet … and then China earned its seat at the table,” Lou said. “(China’s) chair has been at the table for over 10 years, and now a new leader like Donald Trump is telling China to go back to the kitchen.”
Suisheng Zhao expressed concern over current Sino-U.S. relations, expressing he has only seen similar tensions following the Cold War and during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. According to Suisheng Zhao, foreign policy decisions of both countries are to blame for the deterioration of their relationship — China due to its aggressive maritime strategy and increasing alignment with Russia, the U.S. for responding to 9-11 through the War on Terror and for setting off the 2008 global financial crisis. Thus, both are responsible for re-establishing cooperation alongside competition.
During the discussion, Wu expressed excitement over such debate, noting the University welcomes dialogue and diversity of thought.
“This is how we best train (our students), by having controversial topics and the best thinkers to engage in debate,” Wu said. “This is why the University likes so much to invest in diversity, to build these conversations.”
Reflections from event organizers and attendees
In an interview with The Daily after the event, Shang expressed he enjoyed this year’s Sino-U.S. Relations Panel more compared to those in the past for the depth of conversation.
“In previous years, we’ve been reluctant to talk about the real issues,” Shang said. “This year … (the panelists) really brought up some good topics and formed a debate onstage. I really liked the atmosphere there, which is nothing like the previous two years.”
Engineering junior Edward Peper attended the opening ceremony and the Sino-U.S. Relations Panel. Peper said the events helped him understand the importance of cross-cultural communication and understanding.
“It definitely helped me learn what it’s like to bridge cultures,” Peper said. “As an engineer, being able to communicate well and understand people of all cultures is important regardless of what field you go into life. Being able to understand where they’re coming and who they are as people is important.”
First-year Rackham student Ke Li voiced the Sino-U.S. Relations Panel helped him better grasp the U.S. and China relationship.
“I’m not familiar with politics, and the opinions provided by the professors and businessmen were very interesting,” Li said. “Maybe they have different opinions, but they all broaden my imagination of the relationship between China and the United States.”
Vivienne Chi, Michigan China Forum co-president and LSA senior, explained the forum’s future goals include greater collaboration with University departments and programs in hopes to one day bring the Forum to China.
“In the upcoming years, we are working to establish more partnerships with more schools and departments all across campus along with organizing more online and offline regular events throughout the year,” Chi said. “Also, we’re hoping to bring the Michigan China Forum to China as well, so our institution can better serve as a liaison between businesses and scholars in China and Michigan.”