Chinese Consul General Qiao Hong made her seventh trip to Atlanta last week, less than a year since she assumed her current position as her government’s top diplomat in the Houston consulate.
The honored guest at a Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the National Association of Chinese-Americans, Atlanta Chapter, Ms. Qiao has made Atlanta a second home of sorts, making her presence felt at business announcements, sculpture exhibits and schools in the Georgia capital over the last few months.
Lani Wong, chair of the association, said that Ms. Qiao has never explicitly stated a desire to be stationed in Atlanta should a consulate open here. She said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry doesn’t allow consuls general to speak openly where they would like to be stationed.
But as Ms. Qiao laughed and toasted her way through crowded tables at Canton House Restaurant on Buford Highway, it was evident that she has already firmly integrated herself into Atlanta’s Chinese community.
“She loves Atlanta,” Ms. Wong said. “Look how many times she’s been to Atlanta.”
In a December GlobalAtlanta interview, Li Liansheng, a counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, confirmed that China has selected Atlanta as the location for its next U.S. consulate.
In light of Georgia’s growing ties with the one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, city and state officials have expressed a strong desire to see that goal come to pass.
Lisa Borders, president of the Atlanta City Council, who preceded Ms. Qiao in speaking at the event, said to applause that the city is “not bashful” about asking for a consulate to go along with the nonstop route from Atlanta to Shanghai that Delta Air Lines Inc. was awarded in September.
When Ms. Qiao took the podium, she was less forceful, making no mention of a potential consulate.
Instead, she spoke in broad terms about the familiar themes of growing trade relations and diplomatic ties between China and the U.S., specifically as they relate to Georgia. Ms. Qiao, China’s first female consul general, first visited Atlanta in the early 1980s while working for the embassy.
Since the formal opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, she said that total bilateral trade between the countries has increased 120-fold to more than $300 billion, and much of that economic activity has trickled down to Georgia.
In 2006, China’s total trade with Georgia climbed 10.8 percent to nearly $1.1 billion, making it Georgia’s third-largest trading partner.
“China’s investment has been heavily increasing in Atlanta,” said Ms. Qiao, who was on hand in September when Chinese construction equipment manufacturer Sany Heavy Industry Co. Ltd. announced in Atlanta its plans to build a $30 million plant in Peachtree City.
The establishment of new enterprises should be a fitting theme in 2008, the year 4706 according to the Chinese lunar calendar. In the 12-year cycles of the Chinese zodiac, 2008 is the year of the rat, which symbolizes enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship, Ms. Qiao said.
Speaking of newness and hard work, Ms. Qiao also addressed the coming Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Although some have criticized China’s spotty record on human rights and have protested the Olympics, Ms. Qiao insisted that “an open and inclusive China will embrace the world,” and that China’s coming-out party would be a great success.
Just before dinner, the association gave out checks to help local organizations that focus internationally. Georgia Perimeter College took home the largest contribution, receiving $12,000 to fund its expanding international programs.
Anthony Tricoli, the two-year college’s president, said that Georgia Perimeter has almost 13,000 freshmen, more than the combined total of most of Georgia’s premier four-year universities.
A $5,000 check went to Good Shepherd Services, an organization in Chamblee that specializes in assisting Southeast Asian refugees as they attempt to assimilate into society.
Sister Christine Truong, a Vietnamese nun and the Good Shepherd’s executive director, told the crowd that the financially strapped organization helps 9,000-10,000 refugees per year and recently helped 312 immigrants pass the U.S. citizenship test.
Zoo Atlanta received a $2,000 check to continue its panda conservation programs and research. Tom Williams, the zoo’s vice president for government relations, accepted the check.