Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee, the only local elected official in Washington State who was born in China, is convinced the U.S. and China are "on the verge of a relationship opportunity that needs to be seized now to create a partnership that will provide long-term benefits for both nations."
And Lee, 76, a member of the Bellevue council since 1994 and mayor from 2012 to 2014, thinks the establishment of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) in Bellevue will make the Eastside "a world center for innovation that will enhance the relations between the two countries in a way that will influence the rest of the world."
"China and the U.S., with similar geography and populations that have similar personalities, have been friends for 100 years," Lee said. "We are the two biggest economies of the world, the biggest pools of talent and the biggest markets."
He thinks the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership between University of Washington and Tsinghua University, which has been described as the MIT of China, with the $40 million funding from Microsoft, will be a key to the relationship he hopes to see emerge between the two nations.
"The GIX, as the beginning of a commitment on the part of the two vitally important universities and a world-leading company, will help provide a deeper relationship and the exchange of ideas between the U.S. and China and spur economic opportunities across the innovation ecosystem," Lee suggests.
But he cautions that it's important for the U.S. to move rapidly to seize the opportunity to create a special relationship while the current leadership of China is in power and open to that possibility.
And he is concerned that " bureaucrats of both sides are running around talking policy and don't know how to get beyond that to real communication," adding "China doesn't yet have a cadre of people who can understand and communicate with us and the same is true from our side."
"But we are both pushing to find the right connections," Lee added.
"If we are friends in the future, the world will benefit, but if we are enemies, the world won't sleep well at night," added Lee, who was born in Kunming in Southwest China into a family in which his father was founder of a bank and his mother was a high school graduate at a time when few women even attended high school.
Lee was eight years old when his father, who was an entrepreneur and the founder of The Bank of Kunming, died when his plane was lost at sea while he was on a flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Lee recalls that "two years later, as Communists were heading for our region, we left for Hong Kong where we had connections because of my father's had business there."
Lee was schooled in Hong Kong, came to the U.S. in 1958 to attend school at Seattle Pacific, but transferred to the University of Michigan to get his engineering degree and received his MBA from University of Washington.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1971. He worked at Boeing where, as an engineer, he was on the team that developed the 747, then worked for Seattle Solid Waste Utility as a project manager on the team that transformed garbage disposal to solid waste management to make Seattle one of the first cities to recycle and compost its garbage.
He was appointed Regional Administrator of the SBA by President George W. Bush, then ran for the Bellevue City Council. He is mid-way through his sixth term, a tenure twice as long as any other member of the council.
Lee sums up the potential that sets the stage for a U.S.-China close relationship noting, "We need their money and they want our creativity and innovation. We have a nation with a culture of creativity whereas China is very structured, which is the opposite of fostering innovation."
"But the Global Innovation Exchange may help turn that around," he added.