May 30, 2012
I have just returned from an exhilarating trip to China to promote ICMA and our newly established ICMA China Center. After ten days of non-stop meetings with Chinese local and national government officials, academics, U.S. Embassy officials, and the private sector, it is very clear that ICMA is well positioned to contribute to the political reform movement now taking root in China.
On arrival in Beijing, I proceeded directly to the Changping district, a pleasant Northern suburb of the city nestled under the mountain range that protects the ancient Ming tombs. That is where the main campus of our partner university, the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), is located. I toured the ICMA China Center office and its adjacent conference room and felt at home surrounded by ICMA paraphernalia and marketing material – all in Mandarin language of course! Shortly, the ICMA China Center will be acquiring additional office space on the CUPL downtown Beijing campus.
I was there to attend the university’s 60th anniversary celebration. Dozens of universities from China and around the world were represented, demonstrating CUPL’s openness to global learning and knowledge exchange. I was astounded to hear speakers at the opening ceremony openly call for new academic freedoms and a delinking of Chinese universities from the direct oversight of the CCP. That evening, a highly spirited mini-Olympics style opening event took place on the modest sports field of the university with singing, dancing, noise-making, and fireworks galore.
Afterwards, I attended a conference on Public Services Reform sponsored by CUPL and the New Zealand Victoria University at Wellington. The conference took place in a resort under Xiangshan mountain, in the forested and lake-filled wonderland of the Haidian district, which until recently was a restricted area dedicated to the exclusive use of the military and the CCP. I presented an address on Citizen Participation based on a recent white paper prepared by the Alliance for Innovation. I had been worried that the topic of my presentation would push the political correctness envelope too far, but again to my astonishment, several speakers presented the same perspective--that is, the critical importance of community-wide stakeholder involvement to ensure effective provision of local services.
From there, I hopped on the high-speed bullet train (moving at over 200 mph!) to Jiangsu Province and visited the provincial capital city of Nanjing and its Director of Provincial Public Sector Reform. I crossed the Yangtze River and visited the second-level cities of Yangzou, meeting the Vice-Mayor, and Suzhou, visiting Suzhou University and the Director of its Research Institute for Local Government.
Back in Beijing, at the national level, I met separately with the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer and with the Director of American and Oceanic Affairs, in the Foreign Affairs Office of the China National Development Reform Commission. The NDRC and the U.S. Embassy in China oversee the U.S.–China EcoPartnerships program to which the ICMA/CUPL partnership has just been accepted.
ICMA is achieving brand recognition and, together with CUPL, is establishing a broad-based platform in China to assist local government officials in China be ”leaders at the core of better communities.”