Exclusive: Eight Silicon Valley Mayors' Trip To China

摘要: From May, 23rd to 29th, a special delegation, composed of 8 Silicon Valley mayors, visited major innovation and science centers in Shanghai, Chongqing, Zhengzhou and Beijing. What’s the goal of the delegation? What did they say in the trip? What did they think made Silicon Valley unique?

(Chinese Version)

The welcome ceremony at Sias International University of Zhengzhou University

The welcome ceremony at Sias University of Zhengzhou University

It is hard to predict the next center of technological revolution. Yet, the Silicon Valley, located in the south of the San Francisco Bay Area and in the north of the U.S states of California, is home to many of the world's largest high-tech corporations and thousands of startup companies and has been the very center of global innovation since half a century ago.

However, when talking about the Silicon Valley, people tend to focus more on the rich and famous entrepreneurs there, but very few people will talk about the mayors of this region. From May, 23rd to 29th, a special delegation, composed of 8 Silicon Valley mayors, visited major innovation and science centers in Shanghai, Chongqing, Zhengzhou and Beijing, cities that represent major economic centers in East, Middle Central and West China.

What’s the goal of the delegation? By traveling with the delegation, we recorded and reported the special visit along the way. It is possible that you might, aftering reading this article, get a glimpse of the reasons why the Silicon Valley is still the center of the global high tech industry today.

“I am the mayor and I represent my city”

“Do you have a WeChat account? CouId I add you on WeChat?” Kirsten Keith, mayor of Menlo Park, asked one of our journalists shortly after we started off from Shanghai.

Most mayors were willing to fit in and get a WeChat account, a mainstream social networking app in China, and were very friendly when talking with others.

In a meeting, Ms. Kirsten handed out each guest not only business cards (in both English and Chinese), but also a brochure (Chinese version, of course) of Menlo Parks, on the cover of which there was a huge “Like” button of Facebook. Menlo Parks, situated in the heart of the narrow Silicon Valley, is the very place the headquarter of Facebook is based. As a matter of fact, the city’s fame is mainly brought by Facebook.

In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg moved the headquarter of Facebook from Palo Alto to Menlo Parks due to the rapid increase of its business scale and the growing work force.

According to Ms. Kirsten, the headquarter of Facebook in Menlo Parks covered 231,000 square meters, among which 10 office buildings altogether took up 93,000 square meters.

She added that a friendly environment was one of the most important factors that drew talents and tech companies to Menlo Parks.

“We have tree-lined streets, fascinating bay area scenery, high-quality education system and diverse community activities in Menlo Parks, so it’s quite comfortable to live here. Besides, there are so many artists in the city, and the cultural and academic environment can be quite pronounced here,” she explained.

In her opinion, a high-quality ecosystem featuring pleasant natural environment, proper infrastructure, education, art as well as cultural environment, is one important reason why the Silicon Valley is in the lead in the global high tech industry.

The infrastructure of a city is always what attracts Ms. Keith’s attention most. As a matter of fact, she used to be in charge of the entire infrastructure sector of Mento Parks, including transportation, railway, water supply, community resources and flood fighting, etc. When we asked what impressed her most in China, she said it was how fast the infrastructure was being improved in China, even if she’d been in Shanghai only a year ago.

“The speed and scale of the Chinese infrastructure is developing at an incredible speed. It’s just amazing! I really want to know how this could happen in such a limited time,” she said.

Eduardo Martinez, vice mayor of Richmond, gave the city emblem of Richmond to Yu Jun, director of Haidian District and helped him wear the emblem (Photographed by Zhu Lingyu)

Eduardo Martinez, vice mayor of Richmond, gave the city emblem of Richmond to Yu Jun, director of Haidian District and helped him wear the emblem /Photographed by Zhu Lingyu

Another goal of many mayors was to "recommend" their cities to China. Eduardo Martinez, vice mayor of Richmond, is already over sixty years old. This was the second time he visited China. For the visit, he brought a new energy project that was developed by entrepreneurs in Richmond and was primarily focused on solar-powered tramcars.

During the 7-day visit, the concept of “an ecological system caters to entrepreneurs” was often mentioned by the Silicon Valley mayors, which drew much attention from potential Chinese investors in all the international exchanges and dialogues held this week. During the International Partnership Conference held in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, all the Silicon Valley mayors agreed on the idea that whether there was a mature ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship was an important factor entrepreneurs and startup teams would consider when deciding if it’s appropriate to move the company to the city.

Silicon Valley mayors and city councils in the Silicon Valley are more like “service providers” who are dedicated to the maintenance and construction of public infrastructure and service, including education, environment, health, public security and fire safety, etc., as well as the nurturing of a favorable environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. In this sense, the focus of Silicon Valley mayors is quite different from that of their counterparts here in China, who carry on more various types of responsibilities in general.

In our interview, we found that Lori Liu, mayor of Brisbane, won the majority in the 2013 election and 4 more years to serve as the mayor of Brisbane for her contribution to the natural environment preservation project in San Bruno and the successful cooperation between local residents and enterprises in terms of environmental protection. After saving Half Moon Bay from the verge of bankruptcy, Rick Kowalczyk, mayor of Half Moon Bay, soon funded the construction of a new library. During his tenure, Eduardo Martinez, mayor of Richmond, convinced the state government of increasing budget in the education sector to benefit both schools and students.

Hospitable Chinese & humble foreigners

The delegation visited major innovation and science centers in Shanghai, Chongqing, Zhengzhou and Beijing. These four cities must have been carefully chosen by the organizer, since they represent East, Middle Central and West China economic centers, though there might also have something to do with city government’s willingness and efforts to become the guest city.

In Shanghai, the delegation mainly participated the 2016 Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park International Partnership Conference, and the six mayors all shared their understandings about “The Innovation Trend in Silicon Valley”. In Chongqing, the delegation was invited to the 2016 International VR/AR Summit. In Beijing, the Silicon Valley mayors introduced their own cities to the audience one by one at the China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS).

In addition, some mayors signed friendly cooperation agreements with city or district governments and agreed to seek for possible cooperation opportunities on some projects. For example, Lori Liu was added to a WeChat Group about a real estate project, so that they could get in touch and further discuss the opportunity to cooperate in the future.

Patricia Showalter, mayor of Mountain View, was delivering a speech at a conference

Patricia Showalter, mayor of Mountain View, was delivering a speech at a conference

It’s worth mentioning that the delegation’s visit to Zhengzhou was most impressive. The mayors not only had a private meeting with Xu Jichao, vice governor of He’nan province, but also joined Wan Gang, vice chairman of CPPCC and minister of science and technology of PRC, Chun Run’er, deputy party secretary of He’nan province and governor of He’nan province as keynote speakers at The 2nd China Zhengzhou International Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference & International Technology Transfer Convention.

In addition, the welcome ceremony was also a little bit “too grand”. (Click here to watch the ceremony)

On May, 26th, 2016, the mayors paid a visit to the campus of Sias University of Zhengzhou University soon after they landed in Zhengzhou. At the campus, over 300 honor guards of the university waited in line and played the national anthems of China and the US to welcome the delegation, while a line of pupils wearing red scarves, stood in line, presented flowers to all the mayors and then saluted to them, a typical but a little bit old-fashioned way to welcome foreign guests in China.

While the mayors smiled and accepted the flowers, young entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley who travelled along with the delegation, however, found the ceremony “crazy”, and even “amusing”.

Although the central government of China first came up with “The Rise of Central China” plan as early as 2004 in order to balance development nationwide, Central China still lags far behind: while East China takes the lead by a landslide economy-wise, and West China is strongly supported by both central and local government policies.

According to 2015 China Statistical Yearbook, the average per capita disposable income in 2014 in Central China (RMB 16,868, around $ 2,571) is roughly in line with that of West China, lower than that of the national average (RMB 20,167, around $ 3,073), and much lower that that of East China (RMB 25,954, around $ 3,955).

It is obvious that Central China is still not making significant progress. He’nan, representative of Central China economic zone, is still working hard towards the route of industrial upgrading and internationalization.

What attracted them to visit China?

The China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), held near the end of May, attracted much attention both at home and abroad. That's probably why the delegation chose the fair as their last stop. Before “Into the Future: Plug and Play Innovation Forum” began, David Haubert, mayor of Dubin, took the time, left his seat at the front row, hugged and greeted with every attendee and exchanged their business cards. Bursts of laughter could be heard from time to time.

This was actually the second time Mr. Haubert came to China as a Silicon Valley mayor. According to him, such delegations were quite similar each time, and the only difference was the cities they would visit. However, he still loved joining such delegation and visiting China.

China wasn’t foreign at all to Silicon Valley mayors, since all the eight mayors had visited China before. For Mr. Haubert, however, “there are tremendous changes taking place in China every day”. He wished to know more about Chinese entrepreneurs and looked forward to seeing Chinese faces in the venture capital circle at Dublin.

Over four centuries ago, a bunch of British pilgrims crossed from Europe in Mayflower, arrived at America and marched towards a new journey. They had expected to get away from religious persecution, but they had never expected that their descendants would one day build a business world that could influence the entire world.

Although these Silicon Valley mayors travelled so far, had so tight schedules every day, visited almost one city per day, and went through similar activities and events in every city, their enthusiasm to seek for Chinese investors and potential projects were never affected.

This actually has something to do with the change of Chinese economy and the global investment environment. Gradually, Chinese investors are attached higher importance by the rest of the world, and it has already become a trend to “find investment in China”.

According to the 2014 Statistical Communique of China’s FDI issued by the Ministry of Commerce and the Bureau of Statistics, China’s FDI volume continued to grow rapidly in 2014 and increased by 14% to a record high $123.1 billion. On May, 17th, 2016, Shen Danyang, spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, revealed the latest FDI figure: China’s FDI to the US increased by 235.7% from January to April, 2016. Some foreign media even suggested that the total volume of China’s FDI to the US reached a record high: $15 billion, an increase of 30% year on year.

According to Annual Business Survey Report on Chinese Enterprises in the U.S issued by China General Chamber of Commerce-USA this January in New York, the US remains an efficient, open and friendly investment market for Chinese enterprises. While “Innovation Capability” of the US ranked the highest among all the markets, 71% of Chinese enterprises were positive about the business environment within the next three to five years.

It is fair to say that Chinese investors are gradually attached higher importance by the US, the business empire on the other side of the Pacific.

Different from previous Silicon Valley mayor tours, this delegation was accompanied by the famous American incubator Plug and Play, which nurtured many star tech companies in Silicon Valley such as Google, PayPal, Logitech, Dropbox, etc. Chen Xiaochun, co-founder of Plug and Play China, told TMTpost that they certainly would not miss the opportunity to enter China in the background of mass innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The key to the success of Silicon Valley is respect for innovation and individual difference, because we never know which garages the next Google or Facebook will be born,” Patricia Showalter, mayor of Mountain View, said at every innovation summit in the four cities.

He might be speaking the truth. As a matter of fact, more and more exciting innovation might be brought out in China one day in the future, and China is increasingly drawing people’s attention from around the world.

(Like our Facebook page and follow us now on Twitter @tmtpostenglish, Medium @TMTpost and on Instagram @tmtpost_english.)

[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Li Chengcheng, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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