US-China Transportation Infrasturture

10/31/2013

Yesterday I attended a luncheon sponsored by The Chicago Council of Global Affairs on US-China Transportation Infrastructure.  There are annual meetings between China and US on transportation infrastructure and this year’s was held in Chicago during a global trade seminar hosted by the Chicago Council. Among the attendees were Gao Hongfeng, Vice Minister for the Ministry of Transport for the People’s Republic of China and John D Porcari, United States Deputy of Transportation.  My thoughts and comments on the event follow.

All the speakers and they had to do this, had their talking points, including Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel who spoke at the beginning of the event. There is something to be learned from these talking points and I will go over that shortly, but I suspect the real value of the conference was obscured by exclusively going over these promotional topics by the speakers. The speakers missed an opportunity to tell what is value of these conferences and why they should occur.  Exporting and importing is very detailed field with detailed problems. Both US and China had appropriately a number of bureaucrats from various departments at this meeting who needed to deal with the issues and bottlenecks of trade. The man sitting next to me who was an environmental consultant and spoke Mandarin Chinese said at to me, you need face time with Chinese on a regular basis if you want to have success dealing with them. The human interaction and the chance to work on these individual details is the real value in the conference.

Gao Hongfeng in his speech and response to questions talked about the many infrastructure accomplishments of the Chinese government. John Porcari did the same for the US government.  Implied but left unsaid are the challenges both countries face. In China, a continuing growing economy means transportation infrastructure has to be created. The US infrastructure is old, badly needs updating. The US federal government for the first time is trying to establish a national freight policy. See this link: http://bit.ly/1cpmOy3

One important feature of transportation planning is what I would call last mile planning.  The big national governments can plan for the longer distance connections. But city, province, state and regional bodies are needed to do a good job planning for the local parts of the infrastructure. This is true even in China, where central planning is part of the DNA of the government.  Because of the expense, central governments need to subsidize significantly this investment for the general public good even on the local level.

Gao Hongfeng spoke in Chinese. The young lady who translated his comments did an excellent job with a challenging technical vocabulary. The Chinese speaking person next to me confirmed my thoughts on the success of the translation. Gao Hongfeng is an interesting and impressive individual with a lot of challenges of his plate. His education is listed as being from the Inner Mongolia Hydro Electric Power College and distance learning of the Central Party School. It is a comment on our changing times that distance learning is now accepted as normal and proper.

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