There is an old adage in the field of international relations: where trade ships go, warships don’t.
If the adage holds true, Oregon’s relationship with China will become critical in coming years. A strong working relationship with China will likely make the difference as political friction and climate crises spark tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
Despite supply line disruptions and fallout from the previous administration’s trade war, the Oregon-Chinese import/export economy that saw significant growth in 2020. According to global business statistics platform Statista, Oregon companies exported goods totaling $9.3 billion U.S. China in 2020, up from $7.2 billion in 2019.
A Chinese woman passes through a contact tracing sation. Photo: Jin Lan
The adoption of e-commerce trends and ambitious climate goals in Oregon and China, as well as more cordial trade relations compared to other states, has made the state one of China’s friendliest and most reliable U.S. trade partners. As supply chains continue to struggle and political frictions between the United States and China intensify, the Oregon-China relationship could become crucial in the coming years to prevent climate, and military, disaster.
One of the largest reasons for Oregon and China’s strong relationship lies in the supply chain. Despite frequent supply line shutdowns in China, including the halt of freighter activity at China’s busiest cargo airport, Shanghai Pudong International Airport last week Chinese trade with Oregon has continued, largely uninterrupted.
Currently, the Port of Portland does not have a direct connection with the ports and airports in China that have been placed on lockdown, according to Curtis Robinhold, executive director of the Port of Portland.
“Due to the complex web of the global supply chain it’s likely there has been some impact. However, we continue to see steady imports and exports at our terminals,” he says.
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With Chinese citizens’ COVID-19 vaccinations status, as well at their social media accounts, bank account, WeeChat as well as their government ID cards all linked to their phones, Jin Lan, president of the Oregon China Council, says e-commerce has experienced a massive boom in China, which benefits Oregon’s tech sector.
Home to more than 710 million digital buyers, China’s online retail transactions reached $1.93 trillion in 2019 and are forecasted to reach $4.09 trillion by 2023.China is the world’s largest eCommerce market with over 50% of global eCommerce transactions coming from China, according to digital data insights firm Iresearch Global.
“The pandemic has forced China into a big digital dome,” says Lan. “Cash has disappeared, wallets have disappeared, business cards have disappeared. One of the main engines for the Chinese AI internet of things are computer chips. That has really propelled Oregon exports to China.”
An influencer livestreames an eCommerce event in Fujian. Photo: Jin Lan
China’s “internet of things” — the amount of physical objects that are connected to the internet, has increased exponentially as a result of COVID-19. Facial recognition software, and other monitors of vaccination status, have been installed at businesses, transit stations and residences country-wide. The more connectivity, the more artificial intelligence networks are able to analyze Chinese consumer’s buying habits, and advertise accordingly.
Oregon and China also see eye-to-eye on climate issues, causing our green economies to intermix.
Green tech and combating global temperatures has been one of Beijing’s strongest and most consistent policy positions over the last decade. The world’s largest country by population and the world’s largest emitter, China has pledged to be completely carbon neutral by 2060.
Oregon’s climate goals are similarly loftly. Oregon’s summer clean energy bill, which requires Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to reduce emissions 100% by 2040, is among the most ambitious in the country.
China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Company (CATL), the largest lithium battery manufacturer on the planet, could help Oregon achieve its climate goals more quickly. Last year, Oregon-headquartered Powin Energy launched a set of three battery storage system products using CATL’s large form factor lithium-ion cells.
China’s climate goals also involve plans for renewable energy storage, areas where Oregon companies like Powin Energy and Energy Storage Systems could be useful.
A Lithium Battery Manufactured by Tianjin Leshen Battery. Photo: Jin Lan
Oregon’s China partnership has also been boosted by positive interactions during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In January of 2020, Gov. Kate Brown attended an event held by the Oregon Chinese Coalition. While there, she wrote that the people of Oregon stood together with the Chinese people in the fight against COVID-19.
While not widely reported in the U.S, the statement garnered attention in the Chinese media.
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“People in China are more interested in working in Oregon. The trade war has harmed many Chinese-U.S. relationships, Oregon is one of the few left over still perceived as a friendly state,” says Lan.
In September, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry will hold talks in China about the two country’s decarbonization plans, all while the U.S. and its allies continue to send warships to the contested South China Sea.
In November, the Oregon China Council will hold a digital climate summit to discuss trade opportunities. Whether the two countries will remain friendly could depend on trade relations at the smaller level, Lan says.
“If relations happen at the local level, that will find its way to the top,” says Lan. “That’s something worth doing.”
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