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A Line or Two: China in the Morning

Events, people, and issues of interest to The Line sometimes show up when I'm least expecting them.

Take last Wednesday, for example. My wife, who is as about twice as devoted to exchanging business cards as I am, reminded me that I had agreed to join her for a networking breakfast at the Minneapolis campus of the University of Saint Thomas at 7:30 AM. She was going to get the word out about her personal coaching business, which emphasizes stress reduction, among a clutch of high-powered executives and other professionals.

Now I am a reasonably early riser, but I think of 7:30 as an in-the-shower hour, not a dressed-and-in-downtown-Minneapolis-at-an-event hour. So I was groggy and complaining at 6, and in a not-much-better mood when we made our way into the St. Thomas building at 7:15. I couldn't even remember what organization we were visiting.

It turned out to be one of the most interesting and of-the-moment outfits I could have run into: US-China Business Connections, which bills itself as "an educational and networking forum for companies and individuals working to develop business between the US and China." UCBC conducts informational seminars about China business with A-list local experts and promotes connections with China and within the China-focused Minnesota business community, focusing mainly on small and midsize businesses.

The room was full of executives, entrepreneurs and business owners who knew, or wanted to know, China and the market she represents. As attendees identified themselves, I got a sense of the breadth of Minnesota interest in the Middle Kingdom: there were China business and cultural consultants represented, a printing company, a transport and logistics firm, supply chain management, a clothing manufacturer, a semiconductor industry contamination consultant, med tech people, and many others. (And when Laurie announced her stress-reduction services, there was an audible sigh of need in the room.)

A Symposium, then a Mission

UCBC's president and board chair, Warren Vollmar, greeted the group and talked up the organization's most ambitious upcoming educational program, the China Symposium, which kicks off in a week: on Wednesday, October 14. This six-month series of presentations is a short but thorough course in Chinese culture and history as well as US-China economic and business conditions, led off by our ranking local expert on Chinese history, Ed Farmer, professor emeritus of history at the University of Minnesota.

On the 17th, Farmer and his colleague David Davies, who teaches Chinese history at Carleton College, will present an overview of China's evolution from the robust, expansionist Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the Tiananmen Square events of 1989, describing the ancient values and historical traumas that have shaped Chinese thinking and living.

Then in monthly sessions, other experts will analyze China's most recent quarter-century of opening and growth and its meaning for America and Minnesota. Topics include the growing US-China symbiosis and rivalry, free trade versus protectionism, the role of the US manufacturing revival, current market opportunities, the pitfalls of the (pitfall-rich) Chinese legal system, finding the right Chinese partners (and avoiding the wrong ones), and a lot more.

Capping off the Symposium will be a trade mission (April 16-25) to Guangdong Province, one of the main regional drivers of the Chinese economy, during the Canton Trade Fair. The mission sounds like a particularly rich chance for smaller Minnesota businesses to get a China toehold.

IP Headaches

The morning's keynoter was the formidably well-prepared intellectual property lawyer Amy Xu, who handles US-China IP issues at Dorsey and Whitney in Minneapolis. She led off with a video that dramatized the plight of some gorgeous Chinese twentysomething musicians whose love song is pirated (see photo).

She went on to describe the Chinese legal system's IP provisions and address pretty much every gnarly copyright or patent issue that could come up in dealing with China, from the counterfeiting of products to the unpleasant practice of swiping foreign patents, then actually suing the originating company for infringement of the stolen patent. (What's Mandarin for chutzpah?)

Xu's presentation went a little long--lawyers are detail-oriented--and Laurie and I had to leave without swapping any business cards. But the challenges Xu underlined made it clear why nobody should aim their enterprise Chinaward without a lot of help from organizations like the UCBC.

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