Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon made the stunning announcement on live television and radio that he would embark on a "journey for peace" to mainland China.
Upon returning from that historic visit, he remarked, "This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said … is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge."
Fast forward four decades to 2011. Nixon's bridge has been built, with traffic increasingly rumbling across it. The benefits of free trade with China have certainly outweighed the costs, but there is concern that movement over the bridge is going one way more than the other. The U.S.-China trade deficit is the largest in the world, with Americans importing far more than they export to China. To boot, China owns a third of U.S. bonds, and its economy continues to grow while Western economies stagnate, fueling concerns about the rising superpower.
This is the backdrop for the U.S. and China Trade, Culture and Education Conference this weekend in Salt Lake City — an event Nixon could scarcely have imagined in July 1971. Several of China's provincial governors are in town for the conference, designed to coincide with meetings of the National Governors' Association in order to create networking and partnership opportunities between regional leaders from both countries.
This is precisely the kind of economic and cultural exchange needed in today's globalized economy. Boosting trade with China is good for the American economy, for jobs, for innovation and for cultural understanding. And Utah's business leaders are at the forefront of an important trend as they look to a rising Chinese middle-class as a market for goods and services, an approach with potential to help shrink the trade imbalance.
Indeed, Utah's leaders have long embraced dialogue with China. Former Gov. (and recent U.S. Ambassador to China) Jon Huntsman Jr. championed the expansion of Chinese language classes in Utah elementary and secondary schools, and current Gov. Gary Herbert led the state's most recent trade mission to China in April. Local universities regularly host student exchanges and discussions of how to do business in China. Even the Utah Office of Tourism is getting in on the action, promoting the state as a travel destination for Chinese tourists.
This visit also marks an important milestone in environmental stewardship, with China committing to create a new system of national parks and looking to Utah as model for how conservation and economic vitality can coexist.
Ecologically, economically and culturally, our fortunes are interconnected in today's globalized economy. Actions and policies have ripple effects across countries, continents and generations. We are gratified to see Utahans embracing this reality, forging relationships and building on the bridgework laid by President Nixon 40 years ago.