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November 25, 2013

Jim Cheng Lecture Lauds Growth of Chinese Investment in Virginia

topstory1-lgVirginia Commerce and Trade Secretary Jim Cheng
Photo of Jesse RichmanJim Cheng, Qiu Jin Hailstork, executive director of the Confucius Institute at ODU, and President John R. Broderick. Photos by David Hollingsworth
By Jon Cawley

Virginia Commerce and Trade Secretary Jim Cheng brought word of new Chinese investments in the state's economy during a talk Wednesday evening at Old Dominion that launched the Confucius Institute's Great Discussion lecture series.

Cheng, who holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from ODU, spoke about foreign trade and investment opportunities between China and Virginia before answering audience questions. The crowd of more than 200 people included state Del. Bob Purkey and ODU Board of Visitors members Frank Reidy and Richard T. Cheng.

The ODU Confucius Institute is one of only 70 in the United States. The institutes exist for three main purposes: to facilitate the instruction of the Chinese language at the host university and in public and private schools within each institute's geographic area; to impart knowledge of Chinese history, literature, the arts and other aspects of Chinese culture; and to create, through the promotion of language and understanding of China as a country, partnerships that foster mutual understanding between the United States and China.

In introducing Cheng, ODU President John R. Broderick said the event, which marked the first major program hosted by the Confucius Institute since its inception earlier this year, was a milestone.

"I can't think of a more auspicious occasion," Broderick said of Cheng's lecture, adding: "We are bridge builders. The Confucius Institute is a concrete example of an initiative that will reach our objectives."

In opening his remarks, Cheng noted his family connection to ODU, where his father, Richard T. Cheng, is a former Eminent Professor and computer science department chair and his brother Ray Cheng is a lecturer in the mathematics and statistics department.

"It's really exciting because I'm back home in Hampton Roads," he said.

During his talk, Cheng commended one of the ODU Confucius Institute's objectives - promoting Chinese language instruction - because "I believe long-term relationships are built through mutual understanding and commerce."

Cheng went on to discuss the growing role Chinese commerce is playing in the U.S. economy. Currently, that relationship represents $25 billion in U.S. exports, he said, noting that a $1 billion soybean deal signed last year makes China the largest importer of Virginia agriculture products.

Further, Cheng remarked that Chinese investment in Virginia is growing and he cited several small to medium-sized Chinese manufacturers that have recently opened shop (or will soon) in places like Danville, Winchester and Suffolk.

"Manufacturing is returning to the U.S.," he said. "It's coming back because the cost of doing business here is getting more competitive because of our ports, distribution systems and technology. They want to be close to their customers. Great things are happening."

Cheng's discussion also touched on the recent sale of Smithfield Foods to Chinese-owned firm Shuanghui International.

"We in the state think it's a wonderful event," he said. "We believe the Smithfield deal will encourage more investment from China. It signals to the Chinese businessperson that the U.S. is open to Chinese investment of the proper type."

Citing the "big picture," Cheng noted that more than 800 foreign-owned companies, from 45 countries, currently have operations in Virginia, employing 150,000 people.