By STEVEN NALLEY
Chinese companies are bringing jobs to the U.S., and Larry Mullins wants to help bring those jobs Mississippi’s way.
Mullins, a board member with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said the Alabama-China Partnership (ACP), through symposiums where dozens of Chinese companies convene, brought in a $100 million venture called Golden Dragon Copper to Thomasville, Ala. in recent years. He said the partnership began with a visit from Donald Tong, Hong Kong’s commissioner for economic and trade affairs with America, facilitated by the SoZo group, a Hong Kong-based consulting firm.
“Once the commissioner visited with the governor of Alabama and their (Mississippi Development Authority) equivalent, then a symposium was put together,” Mullins said. “So, they arranged for Chinese companies interested in expanding to the United States to come in and visit Alabama. SoZo had made a visit here this summer, and they were very impressed with what was going on here at (Mississippi State University). The thought was that a similar process would take place in Mississippi, starting with ... the commissioner meeting the governor, the MDA and officials here at MSU.”
Tong spoke to students at MSU about Hong Kong’s growing role as an intermediary between China and other economic superpowers Wednesday afternoon at Colvard Student Union as part of a visit to Mississippi that local business leaders hope to parlay into an economic partnership akin to the ACP.
Mullins said he was not present in person when Tong visited Gov. Phil Bryant and the MDA in Jackson earlier in the day, but he had heard the visit to Mississippi has been a success so far. In addition, The Golden Triangle Development LINK will host Tong for a luncheon Thursday at East Mississippi Community College’s Mayhew Campus.
“They’ve already arranged some follow-up this summer in New York at a large meeting of Chinese companies,” Mullins said. “I think it coincides with Mississippi in the Park, so MDA was going to be there anyway.”
The CEO of the SoZo Group, Raymond Cheng, introduced Tong at MSU. In Chinese, “sozo” means “healing” or “putting things back together,” he said, and its initial goal was to promote social responsibility among Chinese companies.
“To create jobs and to help rural communities, particularly in the Southeast (U.S.), is our specialty now, primarily in manufacturing,” Cheng said. “In all honesty, the relationship between the U.S. and China is probably the most important relationship we are going to witness for the next few years, in our generation, in your generation and probably in your kids’ generation. For the first time, there are two superpowers that cannot be at odds with each other. For the first time, the two superpowers have to coexist. Hong Kong will play a pivotal role in whether China will continue to succeed.”
Tong said the key to Hong Kong’s success as intermediary and its economic success lies in its adherence to free market principles. Hong Kong spent several decades as a colony of the United Kingdom, he said, and when it changed into a special administrative region (SAR) of mainland China, business media outlets were largely skeptical about Hong Kong’s economic future. However, he said, both the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation have ranked Hong Kong as having the world’s freest economy for the past 19 consecutive years with a per capita income of U.S. $34,000.
“The cornerstone of Hong Kong’s achievement is the successful implementation of the ‘One Country, Two Systems principle,’ which grants us a high degree of autonomy,” Tong said. “Our cherished civil liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press remain intact. Our rigorous media continues to freely comment on and criticize all aspects of society, including the Hong Kong government.”
As such, Tong said, Hong Kong has been significant in China’s economic development, becoming Asia’s second largest asset management center and its third largest international banking center. Hong Kong has played a particularly important role in the ongoing internationalization of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB), and he said this has resulted in RMB bonds becoming a popular way for other countries’ companies to raise capital.
“Currently, over 130 authorized institutions and banks in Hong Kong offer RMB banking services,” Tong said. “So far, there have been around 210 RMB bond issues in our city, with total issuances amounting to over $44 billion since 2007. International companies such as McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Morgan Stanley (and) Caterpillar have issued RMB bonds in Hong Kong.”
In the future, Tong said he hopes to see more U.S. companies, including Mississippi companies, use RMB bonds. Hong Kong has also facilitated U.S. trade as a consumer of U.S. goods, importing $36 billion in U.S. goods in 2011. Hong Kong also has both Chinese and English as official languages, he said, so Hong Kong extends invitations to Americans seeking jobs.
“We would like to have more degree holders working in Hong Kong,” Tong said. “If you go to mainland China, you have to get a visa, but if you want to come to Hong Kong, (no visa is needed.)”