US congressmen hit fast track for China experience

US congressmen hit fast track for China experience

A delegation of US congressmen will take a high-speed train journey from Shanghai to Beijing on Monday to gain first-hand experience and a better understanding of China.

"That's when they can have a little bit of a view of China through the (train) windows on a busy trip," said Jan Berris, vice-president of the New York-based National Committee on US-China Relations.

The seven-day visit is the fifth the committee has sponsored since 2006 and includes five House members: Rick Larsen, Jim Costa, Leonard Lance, Michael Turner and Billy Long. They left for Shanghai on Thursday.

"We hope it will give them some empathy as to why China makes certain decisions and doesn't make other decisions," Berris said.

The trip comes after the world's two largest economies saw political transitions in November when US President Barack Obama won re-election and China announced its new leadership during the 18th Party congress.

China is the third-largest export destination for the US and a $250 billion market for American companies, according to the Washington-based US-China Business Council, which represents more than 250 US companies doing business in China.

Last year, more than a dozen US governors visited China to pursue Chinese investments. The New York-based research firm Rhodium Group said Chinese investment in the US totaled more than $6.5 billion in 2012.

While interests have ranged from security to military topics on previous trips, this time the members are particularly interested in understanding the Chinese economy, including internationalization of the renminbi, rebalancing the economy, and structural and economic reforms.

"There's much to be gained in both economic and strategic terms if we get the relationship right," Larsen said of the trip during an event on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. "I do expect we'll hear about the US investment climate in China."

During the first stop in Shanghai, the House members will meet Fang Xinghai, director general of the Shanghai Financial Services Office, and visit Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services - a joint venture between Boeing, the Shanghai Airport Authority and China Eastern Airlines - and the local FedEx base.

In Beijing, the congressmen will meet Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and officials from the defense and foreign affairs ministries, and the National People's Congress Foreign Affairs Committee.

The National Committee on US-China Relations, a non-profit organization promoting understanding and cooperation between the US and China, sent the first congressional delegation to China in 1976.

After a break of several years, the initiative resumed in the 1990s because "Congress became more important to the relationship between China and the US and began playing a much larger role" in US politics, said Berris.

After another lull, the committee started the trips again in 2006.

"It's important to provide opportunities for members of Congress to have a better, first-hand understanding of China, the challenges it faces, and the developments it has made," said Berris.

The program will help the Congress members gain direct knowledge of China so they won't make decisions based on inaccurate reporting and information they have heard and read, he said.

Organization of such trips also follows the mandate of the US-China Working Group established in 2005 by Larsen and Senator Mark Kirk, when he served as a congressman for Illinois.