The 2012 sister city expedition to China is over. By any measure, in my view, the trip was a success. Nearly 30 of your fellow Mortonites, plus a few of their friends from other communities, departed on October 3 for a 10-day trip which was 80% sight-seeing and 20% sister city and economic development business for most of us. We each paid $2270, a relative bargain considering the top-level accommodations and the outstanding food.
Our first stop, Beijing, included the usual sightseeing: the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and the Forbidden City. From there, we traveled to Tiantai, which is south of Shanghai and off the beaten tourist path. It is home to Yinlun Machinery, a major manufacturer of heat exchangers and a principal supplier to Cat, Cummins, Ford, and other global companies. Yinlun opened its U.S. headquarters in Morton last year and became the catalyst for Morton's first sister city relationship.
In addition to its manufacturing role, Tiantai is a Buddhist center and a place of scenic beauty owing to its mountainous location. Local officials and Yinlun management rolled out the red carpet, including the hosting of what came close to being a state dinner of the type you see on TV during diplomatic visits. Stops included Yinlun, the Buddhist temple, a high school, and one of the scenic areas.
The school visit was a special hit with the Chinese, especially attributable to a film produced by Jared and Noah Benckendorf depicting their student life in Morton, and the presence of fellow student Myah Grimm. I'd say these Morton students captivated their Chinese peers and the teachers.
We ended our trip in Shanghai where we continued sightseeing, and the mayor concluded a number of business contacts in conjunction with our Morton Economic Development Council CEO and Business Development Director who were on the trip. These contacts resulted in further interest in Morton, with trips by Chinese company officials hosted in Morton at the end of October and beginning of November.
China has emerged as the world's largest market and the world's second largest economy -- where the absolutely modern and contemporary coexist with the ancient and sometimes primitive. Over the past 20 or so years, the government has moved to create a free-market economy, although in practice it's probably best described as a mix of market and state capitalism. Much of Chinese technological, manufacturing, and business competency is already world class, and rapidly increasing.
The political system remains single party rule, a command system that is split between reformers and what might be called hard-liners.
Nevertheless, there is clearly liberalization from the standards of yesteryear, and within limits, Chinese pretty much do, think, and say what they please. There appears to be a tolerance for religious belief, so long as it does not interfere with government policy, and substantial encouragement for individual initiative. The Chinese share many values with Americans – family, hard work, education, and achievement among other things.
A growing middle class is increasingly prosperous, and Chinese repeatedly stopped us on the street or engaged us in restaurants and at tourist sites, and wanted to join us for photographs and practice their English.
Make no mistake: there are unique issues and problems in a country only slightly larger than the United States, but with about the same amount of arable land, 1.3 billion people, and a sharp disparity between the newly rich and the predominantly poor. There are points of conflict with the U.S. in economic policy, international relations, personal freedoms, and military power. These will not likely be resolved, however, by seeking to isolate China. On the contrary, engagement and mutual interest will be the keys to our respective futures. And to the extent that Morton and Chinese companies find mutual interest, we'll not only benefit our respective communities, we'll contribute to resolution of the larger issues.
— Stephen Newhouse is a Morton Village Trustee