Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Courtesy photo
Mayor Jeremy Harris, left, and Wang Guangtao, Beijing's
vice mayor, raise their glasses to a toast during a conference of
U.S. and Chinese mayors.

Chinese mayor
looks to Honolulu
for help in city

Harris is invited to Suzhou
to advise on technology,
tourism and more

By Susan Kreifels


Mayor Chen Deming of Suzhou, China, finds a lot in common with Mayor Jeremy Harris. They both worry about creating jobs, untangling traffic jams, taking care of waste, and Chen says he trusts the Honolulu mayor's opinion.

In China, where personal relationships help make or break business deals, trust can go a lot farther than money or machines.

Chen wants advice from Harris on information technology for his city of 5.7 million people. He also needs help with hotel management and tourism, wastewater treatment, and getting a growing number of wealthy Suzhou residents to Hawaii for their honeymoons. So he's asked Harris to visit his city this year, and Harris plans to take Hawaii business leaders with him.

"A lot of American business people come and recommend technology, but I trust recommendations from Mayor Harris more," Chen said through an interpreter at a weekend conference of nine U.S. and nine Chinese mayors.

Therein lies one of the most important payoffs of this first-of-a-kind meeting -- friendships with Chinese leaders whose policies directly affect the lives of 82.5 million people, and the business that can bring to Hawaii.

John Holden, a businessman in China for years before becoming president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, said state visits by China President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton led the way for meetings of leaders lower down the chain.

"They need advice from other mayors on what waste treatment really is effective," Holden said. "Mayors have a great deal of influence. That's why so many people want to get to know them."

Holden said the weekend conference "created a wonderful atmosphere that enabled friendships to form." By the third day, the Chinese mayors had tossed black suits for aloha wear.

Wang Guangtao, vice mayor of Beijing, invited Harris to lead a delegation of U.S. mayors back to China this year, and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer plans to go. Archer said the meeting of mayors was long overdue. "There were more shared values than we anticipated," Archer said.

Chinese cities are trying to catch up from two decades of rapid growth. They need better air and water. They need jobs for their people as state enterprises phase out. And they need opportunities for the ones who are already making money.

Chen is looking for grass-roots, practical solutions. For example, he said 1-2 percent of Suzhou residents make enough money to come to Hawaii but still have difficulty getting visas. Chen believes certain Chinese travel agents could be designated to arrange U.S. trips, then be held accountable for making sure the travelers return.

Holden said those are the types of practical solutions that can make things happen in China.

Holden also said Chinese cities have budgets to spend on infrastructure and the environment, but they need more. Finance costs are too high in China, and he believes eventually cities will be able to develop municipal-bond financing to attract more cash.

Holden said Chen is looking for ways to create jobs and develop business in his own city. Suzhou is a fabric center, and the mayor said aloha wear could be made cheaply there. He also hopes to develop tourism.

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