The Idaho Statesman sent me to China in June to follow Gov. Butch Otter’s mission to attract Chinese investment and, as Otter repeated from Shanghai to Beijing, to sell groceries.
Through the trip a few readers expressed concerns about Otter’s efforts to attract Chinese dollars to Idaho but the reaction from Idahoans was mostly positive. Of course Otter won reelection easily in November and the China issue never really came up on the campaign trail.
However, since I broke the story Dec. 31 that a Chinese national company was considering developing a 10,000- to 30,000-acre technology zone for industry, retail centers and homes south of Boise’s airport, some people have expressed fears.
Some of the fears are straightforward. Gresham Bouma, a small building contractor from Latah County who ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Republican for the Idaho Senate, expressed concerns about giving Chinese immigrants investment preferences to Idaho businesses. He also worried about the strategic implications of a major Chinese development next to airport where the Idaho Air Guard is based.
“We know the Chinese firms send spies over here,” Bouma told me in a telephone interview.
For others, Sinomach’s interest in developing a technology zone in Idaho, the same kind of industrial development it does throughout the third world is much more ominous. Utah conservative blogger Paul Drockton pointed out that the Chinese Communist Party not only is deeply involved in its national companies but also the military. It’s the same military, Drockton says on his blog that “has made repeated threats against American interests.”
“The fact that Chinese Communists would have the ability to bring in military equipment undetected, if such a lease were given, seems to escape the Governor of the State of Idaho, who visited China and extended the offer to the Communists to do business in his state,” Drockton wrote.
But another blogger, Vicky Davis, sees another use for the new technology zone next to the airport. Her conspiracy sees the development as a conduit for Chinese workers.
These conspiracy theories underscore the political challenge Otter and other Idaho political leaders will face as their success at attracting Chinese investment grows. Most Americans don’t know much about China except that most of the things they have in their homes were made in China.
This week, China President Hu Jintao, visits Washington and we should learn what direction our most important bilateral relationship in the world is headed. George Washington University China Scholar David Shambaugh says the two sides should work hard on stabilizing the relationship strained by a series of incidents and China’s rising power.
If the dialogue of these recent blogs reveals the direction of our national dialogue I suspect it is going to be a bumpy ride.
I will be discussing China with radio host Tom Egelhoff of Bozeman Montana’s KMMS show “Open for Business,” Saturday Jan. 15 at noon. You can listen on line at http://kmmsam.com