Chinese officials meet with Minnesotans to discuss global issues

Angela Gray

A unifying goal of advancing biotechnology and renewable energy is bringing the Far East to the Midwest.

The University is hosting a conference Wednesday with China’s highest-ranking biotechnology official – Wang Hongguang, director general of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development – as keynote speaker, with U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., giving a U.S. perspective on renewable energy and biotechnology.

The conference is an outgrowth of a partnership between Minnesota and China as both promote the development and use of renewable fuels. The event is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, China Center and Center for BioRefining.

Todd Reubold, assistant director of Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, said the idea of partnership and collaboration is key to the group mission.

“Many of the energy-related problems we’re facing today, such as skyrocketing gas prices or climate changes, are global issues,” he said. “It makes sense to have global partnerships to solve those issues.”

In November Gov. Tim Pawlenty led the largest state trade mission to China to date.

The University and its president, Bob Bruininks, also were part of the trade mission, along with the initiative, Reubold said.

Representatives of the group co-sponsored the World Biofuels Symposium in Beijing last year, he said, and “that’s really where the collaboration got started.”

He said the next step will be hosting the Chinese visitors and working on problems together.

“These are challenging issues,” Reubold said. “But through collaboration, we can come up with real solutions for environmental issues here and in China.”

Events such as these are important in regard to environmental and policy issues that affect people on a global scale, said Hong Yang, director of the China Center.

Yang said this conference will be an opportunity for the Chinese visitors to spend time with Minnesota colleagues and University staff or faculty members exploring the possibilities of collaboration.

The University – which hosts about 1,200 Chinese students and scholars annually – has a good reputation in China, he said.

Minnesota tries to attract more Chinese businesses and government officials to visit, he said.

“The Midwest is considered to be the heartland of America,” he said. “You don’t want to spend all your time in New York and Los Angeles.”

Gene Hugoson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who was attending the BIO 2006 biotechnology conference in Chicago, said the conference ties in with the University’s conference.

The Agriculture Department, Hugoson said, wants to continue the dialogue they have with China in terms of renewable energy.

“China has a big interest in renewable energy,” he said. “Their country is growing and they are facing an energy shortage similar to ours.”

He said Wednesday’s conference ultimately is an opportunity to address these shortages and open possibilities.