This year’s “China Day at the Capitol” Feb. 26 was yet another milestone in a rapidly growing business relationship between Georgia and China, drawing state officials and China’s consul general from Houston, who was visiting Georgia for the eighth time.
Sponsored by the Georgia China Alliance and the National Association of Chinese Americans and supported by area Chinese organizations, China Day was organized to celebrate a joint resolution by state Sen. Judson Hill of Marietta and Rep. Charlice Byrd of Woodstock urging both houses of the Legislature to continue nurturing ties with China.
Georgia-China business relations have undergone a whirlwind of changes in a relatively short period of time. In 2007, three major Chinese manufacturers pledged to begin manufacturing operations in the state and are now at various stages of development.
Delta Air Lines Inc. rallied officials in government and the private sector behind its quest to give the entire Southeast unprecedented access to China through a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Shanghai, a wish granted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in September.
Gov. Sonny Perdue will travel on the inaugural flight at the beginning of April for a business mission that includes the formal opening of the state’s trade office in Beijing.
Now, the state’s sights are set on the last missing link: a Chinese consulate in Atlanta, which many businesspeople say will be the seal of approval Georgia needs to spark investment from more Chinese companies looking to set up U.S. operations.
Some say it’s only a matter of time.
“This is just the start of a lot of investment that’s going to occur in Georgia,” said John Ray, chairman of the alliance. Mr. Ray is also president of Heritage Capital Advisors LLC, which advised China-based electrical components manufacturer General Protecht Group in its decision to locate a plant in Barnesville.
He noted the increase in goods flowing both ways through the Port of Savannah and China’s jump from Georgia’s eighth-largest trading partner in 2001 to third-largest as of last year.
Although many other countries currently invest more heavily in the state, China represents the state’s largest pool of untapped economic potential, he said.
“We’re beyond Japan and Great Britain, China is beyond that. It’s more than on the cusp of something, we’re into it,” Mr. Ray told GlobalAtlanta.
Ken Stewart, commissioner at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, agreed in his short remarks at a reception honoring Qiao Hong, China’s consul general from Houston and the event’s honored guest.
“China is just taking off as you know, and I can tell you Georgia’s relationship with China is on that same track,” he said, joking that other attendees should join him in pressuring Ms. Qiao to move to Atlanta.
That relocation is not an entirely unrealistic idea. This trip, Ms. Qiao’s eighth to Georgia, could’ve almost been mistaken for a homecoming, considering the strong relationships she’s built since taking her post last May.
On her first China Day, Ms. Qiao told GlobalAtlanta that such gestures are important from the Chinese perspective in maintaining positive bilateral relations that will ensure more economic and political cooperation.
“Mutual understanding is important, I think, because China is a big country and the U.S. is a big country, and the two countries are great influences in the world,” she said.
In a brief address on the floor of the Senate, Ms. Qiao outlined China’s economic accomplishments and said she was delighted with Georgia’s continued interest in her country.
She also acknowledged some of China’s problems, like a per capita gross domestic product that lags behind a hundred countries and economic foundations that need firming up.
The growing relationship with Georgia is an integral part of that process, she said.
“China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world, and the world cannot develop without China,” she said.
This isn’t the first time that China Day has shown Chinese government officials that Georgia means business in its goals regarding the world’s most populous nation.
In a December interview, Li Liansheng, a counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told GlobalAtlanta that last year’s legislative resolutions, which were almost identical to this year’s, had a drastic impact on the government’s perception of Georgia as a partner.
As far as the embassy was concerned, Atlanta will be the location for the next consulate, he said at the time.
Consulate or not, Atlanta shares another form of camaraderie with Beijing because of the Olympic Games held here 12 years ago, Ms. Qiao said.
That quickly became evident in the Capitol atrium, where an inflated, larger-than-life version of one of the five Beijing Olympic mascots appeared to take photos with China Day attendees.
In a fitting representation of the state’s cooperation with China, Ms. Qiao and Mr. Stewart stood on either side of the mascot for a photo, each holding up one of its slightly deflated arms.
Ms. Qiao is hopeful that the Olympic ties will continue blossoming into business relationships.
“I hope that you will continue to care and work toward the goal of U.S.-China relations,” she said to the Senate.