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In July 1989, I was at my desk at the U.S. Consulate General Shanghai when I received a call notifying me that a small group of senior officials from the Shanghai Municipal Government would be coming for a meeting that afternoon.  I was asked to make sure that the newly-arrived Consul General — Pat Wardlaw who had just replaced my first Consul General Charlie Sylvester earlier in the month — join the meeting.

A couple of things about this. First, you’ll note that a meeting wasn’t actually requested and that none of us were asked about our availability in the afternoon.  We were instead informed that the group of government officials would be coming and we were simply expected to be available when they arrived.  Second, anyone who has worked in China will notice something quite extraordinary about this phone call.  We were not summoned, as is typically the case with Chinese government officials, to go meet with them at their offices. They were coming to us. This would be the only time in my working career in China when Chinese government officials came to us rather than vice versa.

At my desk, U.S. Consulate General Shanghai, 1989

A word of context. This phone call took place in the latter half of July, a month and a half after the June 4th Tiananmen incident. Roughly a week before June 4th, my wife Grace and I had left Shanghai on a one-month Home Leave, traveling first for one week vacation with my sister’s family on Kauai and then expecting to spend the remainder of our time in Philadelphia with family and with me traveling to Washington DC on consultations. As we transited San Francisco International Airport on June 4th to catch our onward flight to Philadelphia, there was a palpable tension in the air and we soon saw the near-identical banner headlines about Tiananmen in a row of vending machines along the terminal wall as we made our way to Passport Control.

I never got my homeleave or consultations in Washington. Secretary of State Jim Baker was determined to have his thumb on the pulse of decision-making by McDonnell-Douglas, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-cola and the other top U.S. investments in Shanghai. He knew it wouldn’t be reliable to just count on what he heard from the CEOs at U.S. headquarters. He wanted to know the calculus of decision-making that was taking place on the ground by the Shanghai-based executives in charge of the major U.S. investments in Shanghai. Having just landed in Philadelphia, I was given one-day to help Grace (early in her pregnancy with our older son Todd) get settled in and was instructed to then turn around and fly back to Shanghai to start providing anything I could learn from my business contacts in Shanghai in a series of classified cables.

So back to the July meeting. The Consulate guard (not a Marine because no U.S. military presence was allowed in China at that time) notified me that the government officials had arrived. I escorted the group of four or five officials into the ground-floor meeting room where a handful of my Consulate colleagues were waiting. One of the officials was just barely managing to carry a big armful of long paper rolls. They did not wait to be seated and didn’t begin with any pleasantries. The senior official simply took the first roll of paper handed to him, unrolled it on the conference room table and announced “This will be the new Pudong. We want you to report about Pudong to your government. We want Americans to invest and help develop it. They will make a lot of money.”

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Today’s post falls into the TEA Collaboratives’ A-Series of content dealing with PRC government planning Ambitions. Over the weeks and months ahead, I will have a chance to share insights developed through the Masters-level course (IMPA 608) which I taught at the University of Pennsylvania in the spring semester of 2019 and 2020. The focus of that course, based on Mandarin language research, is the forty-year trajectory of China’s macro-development planning vision and execution. Domestically, the trajectory of that storyline begins with Shenzhen in the early 1980s, continues smoothly through Pudong throughout the 1990s before encountering turbulence in Tianjin in the 2000s. Following 2012, the first stage of this macro-development model gets jettisoned and the second stage ignites with the twin megalopolis projects — the Consolidated Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Project (‘Jing-Jin-Ji’ or 京津冀) in the northeast and the Guangdong-Hong-Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Project in the southeast. Simultaneous with the unveiling and cranking up of this pair of Version 2 domestic macro-development projects over the last decade, China has also been systematically extending its macro-development model to its 139 international partners through the Belt & Road Initiative.

I look forward to sharing the insights gleaned from this multi-year, instructor-and-student knowledge co-creation effort in the TEA Collaborative’s A-series blogposts on Fridays over the remainder of the year. Understanding the vision and values driving the momentum of this forty-years macro-development effort helps chart where China is headed in the future. I hope this small, personal anecdote about Pudong’s emergence into China’s macro-development planning process serves as an apt way to kick off our Macro-Dev series.

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