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This past November, in the aftermath of the U.S. midterm elections, during which time the American people appeared to express a great deal of frustration with the U.S. government’s response to the financial crisis, an ASPA delegation travelled to Beijing, China to discuss with colleagues from Asia and Europe various governmental responses to the worldwide financial (and governmental) crisis. The venue for this discussion was the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG). The participants were individuals active in either ASPA, the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA), the Network of Institutes and Schools of Public Administration of Central and Eastern Europe (NISPAcee), and the International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS).
It would be hard to think of a more fitting location for such a dialogue since there seems to be a general consensus that no country responded more effectively to the worldwide financial crisis than did China. Equally striking in terms of being hosted by the Chinese Academy of Governance is the realization of the unique opportunity that it provides. While there, one is able to interact with individuals who have worked at the highest level of Chinese government and thus can get a real sense of the nature and personality of such folks. There certainly is not any similar institution in the United States and very few comparable ones anywhere else in that the great majority of both the senior administrative staff and faculty have all held high level positions in their country’s government and the students are all very high level government officials (provincial governors or above).
Because of this reality, any activity involving CAG provides a unique opportunity to get a better understanding of both the issues that concern top level government officials in China as well as, through the nature of the interaction involved, gain at least a little insight into their thinking about both our country and China’s relationship to the United States. The fact that it is not unrealistic to think that over the course of the next century the relationship between China and the United States is very likely to affect more profoundly the well being of the world than any other single international relationship makes this experience all the more valuable.
Certainly, one striking aspect of the event in Beijing was the extent to which our Chinese hosts credited the stimulus activity of their government for lifting the country out of what became the worst worldwide recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Both they and the European and Asian participants felt that those governments that had responded most rapidly, and with the most significant committment of funds, both recovered most rapidly and also were most likely to put in place programs that produced long-term economic and inferstructure benefits.
Another striking aspect was the generally non-ideological and non-dogmatic tenor of the event and the willingness on the part of all the participants to share thoughts and ideas in an open, friendly and explorative manner. Obviously, one also could not help but be impressed by both the courtesy and the hospitality of our Chinese hosts who clearly went out of their way to organize an event that provided an extraordinary opportunity to share important, and sometimes challenging, ideas which provided more than a few hints about directions in which we may all see the world move in the not too distant future.
A second very significant aspect of this meeting was the fact that it brought together four major associations in the field–all with quite different, although somewhat overlapping, constituencies. This without question represented a significant milestone in that probably never before had more than two of our field’s now many regional and national associations ever collaborated on a single event.
In this regard, it was the enthusiasm of our Chinese colleagues in terms of both the organizing of the event and especially their flexibility that made this possible. The actual genesis of the dialogue occurred at the Rio de Janeiro conference of the IASIA about a year and a half ago. At that time, in the first meeting of the then new head of what was the Chinese National School of Administration (subsequently to be re-named the Chinese Academy of Governance), Ligun Wei, and the IASIA President (then me), Wei, who had previously served as a cabinet minister, proposed that, as had occurred some years previously, CAG host a joint IASIA Board meeting and policy dialogue.
Planning discussions began to occur via email a couple of months later. Subsequently, an IASIA Board member who serves as executive director of NISPAcee, Ludmila Gajdosova,, upon learning of the plans, proposed including the NISPAcee Board, which would then result in the first-ever NISPAcee event to take place outside of their European home region. When the idea of expanding participation was suggested, our Chinese colleagues happily agreed.
Shortly thereafter, ASPA’s then President-elect Meredith Newman, on learning of the event, suggested that ASPA involvement would be a great way to further enhance the growing collaboration between ASPA, IASIA and NISPAcee. Yet again the Chinese colleagues agreed to expand their commitment in terms of both time and money to make this happen. Finally, the President of IIAS indicated that they also would like to join in what was becoming a historic event that was bringing together for the first time these four organizations.
Recognizing the value of promoting collaboration in a professional world in which fragmentation and separation among organizations in the field was becoming the norm, our Chinese colleagues again extended their umbrella of hospitality to yet another group. The result of this was to not only provide a unique opportunity for individuals from the four organizations to explore potential ways for collaboration, but also to provide participants with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the way that not only China and the United States, but many other European and Asian countries as well, responded to the fiscal crisis. Such an understanding is obviously a first step to avoiding the repeat of such an event.
ASPA?member Allan Rosenbaum is professor of public administration and director of the Institute for Public Management and Community Service at Florida International University, as well as ASPA’s first international director. Email: [email protected]