By Tom Walsh, Detroit Free Press Columnist 9:30 a.m. EDT August 25, 2015
The contrasts could hardly be greater.
While Donald Trump and other U.S. presidential candidates back home were busy bashing China for igniting a stock market panic around the world, Gov. Rick Snyder kicked off an 8-day trade mission to the world’s most populous nation — walking along the Great Wall, pitching Michigan as a tourist destination for Chinese travelers and signing pledges to boost trade and investment between the two countries.
Snyder’s visit this week is his fifth China trade mission in as many years, and has established Michigan as one of only five U.S. states to forge formal economic ties with five “powerhouse” industrial regions of China, he said.
As stock values plunged Monday morning on U.S. markets and then careened wildly, Trump took to social media in the U.S., blaming China for the crisis. “I’ve been telling everybody for a long time. China’s taking our jobs; they’re taking our money,” he posted on Instagram, adding, “Be careful — they’ll bring us down.”
Fellow GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina added to the China chatter, taking shots at the Obama administration and U.S. Federal Reserve for leaving the U.S. vulnerable to China’s problems.
But Snyder said he’s heard none of that since landing in China on Saturday.
“No one has even mentioned Donald Trump on this trip. Nobody,” he said.
There has even been scant mention of the slowdown in China’s economic growth or its currency devaluation, he added, noting that most of the companies that he and the delegation of Michigan automotive, agricultural and economic development officials have met with are looking to invest in plant expansions and growth abroad.
This biggest difference between this trip and his first China visit in 2011, Snyder said, “is that now people know where Michigan is, and their impression has changed from a negative to a positive one.”
Tuesday morning in Beijing, Snyder and Zhang Xiangchen, China’s deputy minister of commerce, presided over the signing of a pledge to expand economic activity and cooperation between Michigan and four of China’s provinces plus the major city of Chongqing.
The four provinces – Guangdong, Sichuan, Hubei and Zhejiang – and city of Chongqing have combined populations of about 195 million people, nearly 20 times that of Michigan.
The agreement enables the regions to increase cooperation and carry out exchanges in industry and agriculture, economic activities and trade, science and technology, culture and education, sports and health, travel and tourism.
On Sunday, Snyder and his delegation squeezed in a visit to the Great Wall at Mutianyu, in between receptions and business meetings on Saturday and Monday.
Over the past five years, more than 100 Chinese enterprises have invested more than $1 billion in Michigan, much of it in the auto industry.
Conversely, Michigan companies exported over $3.4 billion of goods and services to China last year, an increase of 26.5% from 2011.
Snyder plans to meet later this week with business leaders and government officials in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Shanghai.
Gov. Rick Snyder shows off a Michigan sunset to Chinese travel writers, part of a discussion about tourism opportunities for the Chinese in Michigan. (Photo: Governor’s Office)