China has an area of 6 million square miles, a population of more than 1.3 billion. It is a totalitarian state with little tolerance for alternative viewpoints that violates human rights as a matter of national policy and is a major contributor to the current environmental crisis.
The City of Santa Fe has an area of 37 square miles, a population of approximately 72,000. It is an "inclusive community" that leads the nation in civil rights and green technology.
It's like comparing mandarin oranges to green chile. And yet it seems Santa Fe is going bananas for the Far East.
The mayor traveled to Santa Fe's Chinese sister city in October. In April, the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce took 220 of its members on a tour of China, a trip so popular the Chamber is scheduling a second journey for October. At the beginning of June, the Santa Fe Council on International Relations will host a five-day symposium titled "Spotlight on China." The Museum of International Folk Art is staging an exhibit of Southwest Chinese textiles. Numerous Santa Fe small businesses—including, as reported last week by Journal North, Nambé metal goods—outsource manufacturing to China.
"I think some of the interest in China comes from the business opportunities," historian John Dobson, who will present the opening lecture for "Spotlight on China," tells SFR. "I think what is perhaps more important is that there's the idea that China is the new superpower and we ought to know more about it. The political and economic issues are right there. Even for people who aren't directly interested in business, China still looms as a very important player on the world stage."
Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce President Simon Brackley predicts that as Chinese citizens find themselves with more disposable income, some of the money will end up in Santa Fe's tourism and arts industries. He concedes China's growth has negative trade-offs, particularly related to pollution, traffic and housing—but that may also ultimately benefit Santa Fe.
"China is overdue for green industry," Brackley says. "I think with the initiatives we have going in our community, as far as training for green jobs and incentives the city is putting together, I think perhaps the Chinese can learn something from us in that area."
Already one Santa Fe company has created a bridge for the US and China to share research. In the fall, software company Deep Web Technologies worked with the Chinese government to connect its scientific journals through the US Department of Energy's database, worldwidescience.org.
"They're going to become a good trading partner," Deep Web founder and President Abe Lederman tells SFR. "Hopefully some of it will go the other way—instead of us buying a lot of Chinese goods, they can license and buy things from companies like Deep Web."
As far as China's policy toward Tibet and its oppression of religious groups goes, Santa Fe Amnesty International organizer Susan Tarman tells SFR the group has moved on to other issues, including torture and immigration.
"I guess, in a sense, China has fallen off our radar," Tarman says. "There was such a huge push around the Olympics and there's so much else going on. Things do sort of have their ebb and flow. Darfur had its flow, then it ebbed while the Beijing Olympics came up, and then that ebbed while something else comes up."
Meanwhile, Santa Fe's Tibetan exile community hasn't given up. According to Tibetan Association of Santa Fe President Rigzin Latoe, the association sent two of the Dalai Lama's autobiographies to Santa Fe's Chinese sister city Zhang Jia Jie when Mayor David Coss visited in 2008, continues to stage marches and recently met with New Mexico's congressional delegation in Washington, DC.
Although he is hopeful the new US ambassador to China, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., will make human rights a priority, so far Latoe is disappointed in the Obama administration. In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China and said human rights issues must come second to economic issues.
"I see the globalization of the financial and economic systems," Latoe, who is preparing for the June 7 Buddhist holiday Saga Dawa, says. "But, when we bend to the Chinese like Ms. Clinton did, it will be Chinese globalization, not American or Western globalization, and that will be the saddest thing in the world."
Spotlight on China: From the Long March to Wal-Mart
Santa Fe Community College, Jemez Rooms and assorted venues
Visit santafecouncil.org or call 505-982-4931 for program details.
Tibetan Mantra Recitation and Saga Dawa ceremonies
Tibetan Association of Santa Fe
915 Hickox St.
Call 505-780-0574 or 505-660-1054 for more information.