Striking the Right Balance

On September 29, 2009, in China, by Mark Norris

Good afternoon from Tokyo. My watch says it is 2:15 Tuesday morning at home, but it is mid-afternoon here in Japan where we have just landed on our way to Beijing, China.
Yesterday, at an altitude of 35,000 feet and at 550 m.p.h., we traveled 4,671 miles from Atlanta before leaving U.S. airspace over Alaska Monday night. After 8 hours following the sun in flight, over the Bering Sea, we still had another 5 hours and 15 minutes to go just to reach Tokyo for refueling. The sun never set. China is still 4 hours away.
While most of Memphis slept, we studied U.S. State Department briefing books about China. The country is immense (3.7 million square miles). The population is about 1.4 billion. The capital city of Beijing alone has 17 million people covering 6,336 square miles. Compare that to Memphis – not 700,000 people and 256 square miles, and you can begin to imagine how it might feel.
In Sunday’s installment, I wrote about early normalization efforts between our nations and “the past as prologue.” The foundation had been set in 1972.
But most of our trade with China is of relatively more recent vintage. Official embassies were not opened until 1979, and Tennessee did not initiate bi-lateral relations with China until 1986 under Governor Lamar Alexander.
Tennessee-China trade did not really hit its stride until as recently as 2000. Tennessee’s exports to China amounted to one of the fastest upward trade trajectories of all U.S. states – from only $184 million in 2001 to more than $1.8 billion in 2006 making Tennessee the United States’ 6th largest exporter.
Last year, however, our exports dropped to pre-2004 levels rendering Tennessee 13th among U.S. exporters.
The decline is cause for concern. Our political and cultural differences are already significant. As the balance of trade tips toward imports from abroad, the economic imbalance causes financial hardship and intolerance at home.
We need to understand how to reverse this trend if we are to recapture the revenue needed to boost our economy. For insight, I will meet in Beijing and Shanghai with companies which either have headquarters or major operations in Memphis and are now doing business in China. I hope to get their perspectives on what must be done to strike the right balance, and I will share what I learn during the days ahead.

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