Muscatine, Building Guanxi

Guanxi /gwan’CHE/ noun

Definition –  (in China) the system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings.

That was the word Allen Barber II used to describe Muscatine’s relationship with China during an October 25 presentation at Muscatine Community College.

Barber knows quite a bit about building relationships with China. As President of Denver-Hainan Corporation, he has been working with Chinese executives for 30 years assisting with the development of Hainan Island. He has served as Investment Advisor to Nankai District of Tianjin, Friendly Representative for Human International Exchange for Hunan Province, and advisor to China Xinhua News Network Corporation.

“Muscatine has already developed the relationships, the guanxi, that provides the base for future partnerships,” he said. “You could be a leader in this region and maybe the country. It’s such a unique friendship for the United States.”

That relationship was built when current Chinese President Xi Jinping was still a student and spent time in Muscatine in his youth. He returned to visit the community just prior to becoming his country’s leader. It is further enhanced by the recent appointment of former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as US Ambassador to China.

Muscatine Community College has embraced the spirit of guanxi for several years.

“We have worked with China on a number of projects and continue to pursue additional opportunities,” MCC President Naomi DeWinter said. “We have advised them on establishing community colleges in their country and provided our students the opportunity to visit the country.”

Those student visits were further enhanced this past February thanks to a $300,000 gift to the Muscatine community from Wanxiang America Corporation. Students from both Muscatine Community College and Muscatine High School can now participate in annual trips to China.

“You listen to people in the news and they talk about Communist China and they talk about repression and about the closed society,” Barber said. “It’s not closed. There was something like a hundred million tourists coming from China last year. That’s a third of the United States population and they are looking abroad. It’s our choice to greet them or not.”

Barber’s visit to the college was part of a larger live China Town Hall meeting. Muscatine Community College served as one of the 80-city sites for the event coordinated by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. He also gave a noon hour presentation the following day at Scott Community College.

The Muscatine event featured former National Security Advisor Susan Rice via webcast. Participants both locally and across the country had the opportunity to pose questions to Rice about US-China relationships. Barber followed up the webcast with his presentation at the college. The event was open to the entire community.

“We think it’s important to bring these types of opportunities to the community,” DeWinter said. “It provides people the chance to learn first-hand about these larger issues that are impacting their lives.”

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