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Interview with Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs following her visit to Guangzhou, September 13-15, 2012

Biography: Reta Jo Lewis

1. What is the purpose of your China trip this time?

I am here to promote deeper cooperation at the provincial and municipal level between the U.S. and China.  On this trip I have traveled to Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou in order to highlight existing partnerships and build new ones.  Here in Guangzhou I have been focused on sister city, sister province relationships, education partnerships, and healthcare cooperation. 

2. The APEC summit is drawing near. Is your trip to China preparatory for it? What topics or programs would be included in the APEC agenda in inter-government affairs? 

I actually attended the APEC summit in Vladivostok as part of this trip and I am happy to report that the meeting did have several positive outcomes related to inter-government affairs.  Perhaps most notably of all of them, as a U.S. delegate, I participated in the signing of a joint declaration of the U.S.-Russian Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement.

3. What programs are in the package of the U.S.-China inter-governmental cooperations or possibilities in the coming years? In what areas or sectors could the U.S. and south China, especially Guangdong, work together the most, in your understanding from this trip? In south China, does the U.S. have any strategic focuses? 

One of the real highlights for me during my two and a half years as Special Representative has been the development of the U.S.-China subnational initiative.  Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) supporting U.S.-China subnational cooperation on January 19, 2011.  Since that time, we have witnessed a historic level of engagement at the subnational level, including dialogues and exchanges like the U.S.-China Governors Forum and the China International Friendship Cities Conference which I just recently spoke at. 

We currently have over 200 sister city and sister state relationships and Guangdong is no exception.  Guangdong has two sister provinces and there are twelve sister city programs in the province including between Guangzhou and Los Angeles.  Four big areas we see as having a lot of opportunity for future growth in south China are investments ( a high priority for President Obama and for Ambassador Locke), environmental technologies from clean energy to eco-friendly waste management, healthcare, and education.

4. South China, especially Guangdong and Fujian, are undergoing industrial transformation or moves –say, the initiative of Double Transfers of Human Resources and Industries.  China is upgrading its economy in its 12th 5-Year Plan.  Are there any opportunities for the U.S. to work with China to tailor into these respects?    

I think as South China continues development and upgrading and transforming the economy here, the capacity to innovate will be critical and along with that, the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).  We believe U.S. and Chinese companies that are driving innovation share the goal of strengthening IPR protection here, and this is certainly one area we expect to see close cooperation.  The four areas of cooperation I just outlined (investments, environmental technologies, healthcare and education) will also be critically important.  Energy needs are only going to continue to grow as will expansions of the number of vehicles on the road, the number of large buildings being built, and the amount of water and waste which will need to be dealt with.  In all of these things the U.S. has technology and expertise that we can share.  Similarly, a major part of building the human capital needed to develop the region will need to be investments in healthcare including hospitals, physician and nurse training, pharmaceutical development, and medical equipment.  These are all areas where U.S. companies are again very interested in partnering with Chinese counterparts to help better the lives of local citizens.  Investments in both directions will fuel this process.  Chinese investments in the U.S. are surging and we welcome this development.   Finally education is critically important to the advancement of high-tech sectors and the U.S. education system and universities continue to be huge draws for Chinese students.  We hope to expand on those and open the door to more students to come and study in the future.  

5. Other than Beijing, you visit Chengdu and Guangzhou. Why did you or the USG choose Guangzhou as one of the two local stops outside the capital?

Guangzhou has long been a place I have wanted to visit.  This is my first time here but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been interested in south China.  Guangdong is an economically thriving and dynamic province and has historically been at the forefront of building people-to-people connections with the U.S. and as we look to deepen economic ties it just makes good business sense to come to a city and province which is now starting to look more at the U.S. as a destination for investment.  A great example of the growing awareness of the importance of south China is the visit by Governor Malloy of Connecticut.  He and I met with provincial and municipal leaders to discuss ways to further investment and trade relationships which have helped to make this province the magnet for prosperity that it is.

6. What have you accomplished in your China trip, especially the Guangzhou leg? And what have not been fully achieved and need to be done more? 

My goal is to deepen existing partnerships and build new ones between U.S. states and Chinese provinces as well as between cities in our respective countries.  Bringing our peoples together to work together to advance shared interests is an ongoing process, and we are building strong momentum.  I look forward to continuing to promote this essential mission.

7. Which organizations and people did / will you meet in Guangzhou? Why do you want to meet with them? What topics did you talk about?  What impressed you the most here?

While I have been in Guangzhou I’ve met with the leadership of the Provincial Foreign Affairs Office, Health Department, Education Department, and with city and provincial leaders.  We discussed ways to further cooperation in each of these fields and focused on concrete actions which could be taken.  Both groups were able to identify specific partners they hoped to work with in the United States and we also identified areas where state and municipal leaders in the U.S. might be able to collaborate with authorities here.  An example of this is public health and emergency management, important issues on both sides.  I was very impressed with breadth of opportunities I found in the sectors we discussed.  My being in Guangdong has given me the chance to focus on health and education issues in a way not always possible elsewhere.  There are numerous ways we can really work together to advance bi-lateral relations in these fields in ways that help to promote trade and better the lives of people here in Guangzhou.  I also spent a good deal of time talking about the U.S.’s interest in attracting investment on our side of the Pacific as well.  This has been a theme noted by the President, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Locke, and numerous state and city leaders.  We welcome Chinese investment and I’m here to help make that process easier.

8. How could the non-government communities (business and other sectors) participate in the inter-governmental endeavors between China and the U.S.? 

Building people-to-people connections is a priority for the U.S. Government and we welcome creating more linkages beyond government-to-government channels.  I was pleased to learn about the connections being made between schools here and in the U.S. as well as between our hospitals.  Broadening the connections between our countries is essential to strengthening mutual understanding and I would encourage organizations to contact the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou if you have ideas or proposals for building connections with U.S. counterparts.  

9. Has there been any progress on the subnational climate change partnerships between several U.S. states and Chinese provinces? If so can you provide details? If not, what is holding up that progress? In particular, what progress has there been on the Guangdong-New York climate change partnership and what will be coming next as part of that?

I know there are a number of discussions between Chinese provinces and U.S. states, including between Guangdong and New York, in the area of climate change.  While I don’t have specifics on where the New York project stands, one of the Secretary's EcoPartnerships is between Center for Climate Strategies and the Global Environmental Institute (Beijing-based).  They are working together to pair up and promote low-carbon partnerships between the U.S. And China.  Chinese delegations have also visited U.S. cities to look at green buildings, low-carbon transportation, and sustainable communities/waste management. We stand ready to help interested Chinese partners find potential matches in the U.S.  In general terms, there is broad potential and opportunity to develop low-carbon partnerships between U.S. states and Chinese provinces. One example of this is in sharing insights related to pilot projects happening and the state and provincial level.  Guangdong is a carbon market pilot province and California is doing interesting and exciting things in this regard as well so information sharing about experiences is a great way to move forward.  As the world's two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, both countries have a  strong interest in working together to reduce emissions and foster sustainable development.  Local governments across the U.S. have experience in formulating and implementing climate action plans as well as sustainable city designs, and China, confronting mounting environmental challenges and rapid urbanization, could benefit from this experience.