The United States Consulate in Shanghai serves three primary purposes: 1) reporting on conditions in China, 2) advocating for US policy, and 3) supporting US visitors. During our visit with foreign service officers (FSOs) in the economic and political sections of the Consulate, we learned about the challenges the US faces in advocating for American interests in Shanghai.
One key takeaway pertained to the differences that exist among all provinces. Many Americans believe that the Chinese government is capable of making decrees that will be obeyed immediately. This turns out to be quite false as there is considerable power at lower levels of government. At times, this can be useful for policy experimentation. According to the FSOs, Shanghai has been a testing ground for the introduction of new policies, including the creation of free trade zones and an Intellectual Property Rights court.
In addition to the differences in policies among the provinces, the Consulate experiences different reactions from the Chinese government depending on the policy issue. On issues of climate change, economic trade and investment, law enforcement, and disease prevention, the Consulate is able to engage more with its Chinese counterparts. Other issues remain more difficult to talk about, which leads to the final point from our meeting with the Consulate.
China is a rapidly changing country, not just in economic terms. As China continues to modernize, economic and other reforms will occur. It may take a province level approach to demonstrate the effectiveness of various policies before national adoption. Throughout all of this, the US will continue to engage with China.
– Kelvin V.