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The Chicago/China Connection

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The principled stand by Google on how it will operate in China reminds us that behind the rules of business and politics lie judgments and decisions made by individuals. The more people in this nation and China understand how each other think, the closer they will be to making decisions that serve the best interests of both nations.

There is no shortage of motivation for the two superpowers to remain fully engaged. I am struck, for example, by the fact that the rate of growth of China's economy over the past year, a bit over 10 percent, is about the same as this nation's unemployment rate. As the United States' economy recovers and grows, it would not be prudent to walk away from a market the size of China. At the same time, the Chinese recognize that the strength of the U.S. dollar is an important part of their own economic stability.

I believe that big changes are the sum of many small activities, and that is part of the reason the place I work, the UIC College of Business Administration, puts such an emphasis on entrepreneurship in both its undergraduate and MBA programs. Sum up all of all the entrepreneurial activity in this nation and you have its largest engine of economic growth.

Just as the sum of the work of entrepreneurs adds up to an enormous amount of business activity, so too does international education, which provides the opportunity to train students from other nations, building an ever-growing capacity for understanding and cooperation.

For example, there is a remarkable body of work underway at UIC that is making a difference in the way business is done between the Unites States and China. I'm certainly not arguing that things are perfect--the tension between Google and the Chinese government and the continuing debate about the value of Chinese currency is ample proof of that. But I do argue that UIC's program is helping to move things in the right direction.

In 1996, UIC launched an MBA program in China that now boasts almost 1,500 graduates. I believe it to be the largest such program run by any college or university in this nation. There are a couple of distinctive characteristics of this work. One is its close relationship with four Chinese provincial governments that enroll government officials and which sponsor participation by banking officers from each province. To date, 452 Chinese government officials and 51 banking officers hold a UIC MBA. The second important element of our China MBA program is that we don't teach it in China. Every student comes to our Chicago campus for 12 months, where they are totally immersed not only in their academic work, but also in the life of the Midwest.

For these 1,500 students, understanding of U.S. business and American culture is not something they learn through the media or in lectures by visiting scholars. It is something they experience firsthand over an extended period of time.

One by one, the impact builds. Yang Dongwei earned his MBA from UIC in 2006 and has moved on to a position in China's central government, where he is a key person in the writing of rules, regulations and guidelines for the development of industry in China. Fu Shoujie was a government official in Liaoning province before taking the UIC program in 2000. He moved into the private sector, rising rapidly through the ranks of Honda Automobile's China operations, and was recently named Chairman of Honda China. These are only a few examples of the program's successful alumni. There are many more.

I'm enough of a hometown supporter to believe that this remarkable connection between China and the UIC College of Business Administration works to the advantage of Chicago. When Mayor Daley has traveled to China, for example, receptions have been held for him by UIC's Chinese alumni. As UIC has expanded the activity of its International Center for Futures and Derivatives, it has built close relationships with Chinese universities and financial institutions.

Reading the headlines of the day, it is easy to feel that the push and pull of international forces in the economy happen well out of the reach of individuals. Looking through the eyes of an entrepreneur, however, one sees the work of individual people. And in the case of the US-China relationship, a surprising number of the best-educated Chinese involved have a close connection to Chicago.