View more photos of the Travis County Delegation visit to China on Facebook.
China was an eye-opening experience. I was thrilled by TCCIP’s (non-profit Travis County Citizens International Program) invitation to visit China on a “sister cities” mission of friendship. Judge Biscoe and I travelled as representatives of the Court with a wonderful delegation of folks brought together by TCCIP. To be honest, I was not totally clear on what, if any, benefit to Travis County governance could come from having two Commissioners Court members travel to “sister cities” in the Yangtze River Delta. But, since Travis County spent no public dollars on the trip, I enthusiastically accepted this rare opportunity and was willing to see what positive developments could come from establishing relationships with Haining and Rugao, China.
Both cities are engaged in complete makeovers at the instruction of the National Party. Both are located in Economic and Technical Development Zones surrounding Shanghai. What once were industrial port cities with significant agricultural industry are now being transformed into high tech hubs. Rugao has built acres of college campus, corporate headquarters, research and development space and transit-oriented workforce housing to attract corporate investment. But other than some internet businesses, call centers, and vestigial farms, these complexes are eerily empty.
Haining has a little more activity and it appears to have been happening for some time. It too has snapped up agricultural land for redevelopment. But its traditional industries (mainly leather and textiles) seem to still be thriving in tandem with its burgeoning tech sector. It appears that the new wealth in Rugao is mainly from the recent real estate boom.
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Unlike Travis County, the real estate boom in these cities is being driven into the comparative stratosphere by a loosening of Party control along with a significant subsidy of construction and commerce. The Chinese Communist Party is gambling big that “if you build it, they will come.” Even a non-economist like myself can see that if the gamble does not pay off, it will cause the real estate bubble burst heard round the world.
I am glad I saw China’s economic gamble first hand. My limited experience and research indicate the gamble is raising the economic and political fortunes of the Chinese people. As a fellow citizen of the planet, I wish them well. This is not altruism – we are so bound up with China that its failure would seriously destabilize the world economy and politics. We are truly in this together. Therein may lay the justification for Travis County, Texas officials getting to know their local counterparts in the Yangtze River Delta, China.