Barry McNamara  |   Published March 25, 2015

Making global connections

Gov. Holden: Midwest matters to China, and vice versa
  • Former Missouri governor Bob Holden discusses the importance of Midwest states working in unison to promote international trade during Monmouth College’s Fifth Annual Midwest Matters Forum on March 24.

2015 Poll Summary
2015 Midwest Matters PowerPoint 

Findings from Monmouth College’s latest poll of Midwestern attitudes indicate that residents of the region are warming to the idea of globalization.
The poll, which surveyed 500 Midwesterners in an eight-state region, found that more residents believe foreign policies are headed in the right direction than did the first poll taken in 2011, although that number has not yet climbed above 50 percent.
One man doing his part to help the Midwest better connect globally is former Missouri governor Bob Holden, who was the featured speaker at the college’s Fifth Annual Midwest Matters Forum, held earlier this week. Holden chairs the MidWest U.S. China Association (MWCA), a bipartisan organization representing 12 Midwest states. The MWCA is devoted to forging partnerships between the Midwest and China regarding manufacturing, energy, agriculture and transportation.
Preceding Holden in the program was MC assistant professor of political science Nathan Kalmoe, who revealed the results of the Midwest Matters poll. Although Midwestern attitudes in general are improving, he said, there is still a strong tendency to see China as a threat, with only 15 percent of those polled favoring an increase in trade with China.
In a very basic sense, Holden sees his role as a glorified playground monitor.
“Imagine two kids on a playground,” he said. “If you know the other kid, you’ll work it out if you have a problem. But if not, you’re going to want to bloody each other’s noses. (The U.S. and China) can come to a better understanding as we learn about each other.”
Throughout his talk, Holden stressed that learning is a key. He said the region’s network of colleges and universities is one of several advantages that the Midwest has in the process of developing better relations with nations such as China.
“The most important attribute to be successful going forward is our institutions of higher learning throughout the Midwest,” he said. “The best thing we can do is open our doors to students from China to come to our institutions.”
A faculty member at Webster University, which is home of the Holden Public Policy Forum, Holden related a story from one of his classes. At the end of each semester, he solicits comments from his students.
“I will never forget what one student said to me. She said, ‘I will not go back to China the same person that came to America.’”
He also related a story about Chinese president Xi Jinping visiting the U.S. prior to gaining office in 2012. He visited four cities: New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Muscatine, Iowa. Why Muscatine? Because that’s where the family lived that hosted Jinping when he had been a student in the U.S. 27 years earlier.
Not surprisingly, said Holden, several soybean agreements between China and Iowa have been made during Jinping’s time in office.
“That’s the reason why what we do in higher education is so critical,” he said. “In the U.S., we all know ‘the three Rs” – reading, writing and ’rithmetic. In China, their three Rs are relationships, respect and responsibility. We should combine both of those sets of Rs to better pull things together between our nations.”
In addition to those skills and values, Holden cited “six pillars” to forge better relations with China and other emerging nations such as India and Brazil: business, agriculture, energy, education, culture and government.
“The Midwest is the only region of the U.S. trying to put these pieces together,” he said.
Holden said Midwesterners and all U.S. citizens need to come to the realization that times are changing. He used a quotation from President Bill Clinton’s inaugural address in 1993 to drive that point home:
“Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world. And the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy. This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of Americans who are able to compete and win in it.”
Added Holden, “We must understand the historical times that we are in. National boundaries are no longer important for major companies. They will go where there is talent … and where they are treated well. They are not loyal to cities, states or regions.”
The Midwest can compete in today’s world, said Holden, not only because of its institutions of higher learning, but also because, when put together as a 12-state region, the Midwest has the world’s fifth-largest economy. Additionally, he said, the Midwest possesses “the one resource the world will most demand in 25 years – fresh water. The Midwest has 22 percent of the world’s fresh water.” 
Holden praised the forum’s organizer, MC political science lecturer Robin Johnson, for his role in driving the college’s Midwest Matters initiative, calling him his “go-to person” on issues relating to Midwestern culture, along with Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Following is a summary of the key findings of the Midwest Matters poll: • The direction of the region is improving compared with four years ago but those who believe the Midwest is off track are still in the majority
• More Midwesterners are confident about the future economy than those who are pessimistic
• Immigration is still an important issue in the region but the intensity of feelings have softened
• Most Midwesterners still favor a tougher approach to immigration reform but opinions have softened some in the past four years
• Midwesterners have clear differences about who their friends and foes are in the world, with Mexico and Cuba rated similarly
• Opinions about Mexico are influenced by the immigration issue
• Opinions about immigration are influenced by partisan feelings
• More Midwesterners still see China as a threat rather than an opportunity but the difference lessened in the past four years

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