Engaging China


Brian Johnson

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Business & Public Administration


Global public affairs consultant James McGregor urges audience to head east at inaugural Eye of the Hawk Lecture.

When James McGregor went on a backpacking adventure through China for a month in 1985, it was mostly Mao suits and bicycles.

A lot has changed since then, McGregor said.

McGregor spoke to a packed Gransberg Community Room in UND’s Gorecki Alumni Center Thursday night for the College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) Eye of the Hawk Lecture, an inaugural event in a series created by UND President Mark Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy to draw renowned speakers to UND to discuss important topics. The lecture was sponsored by First State Bank of North Dakota.

The standing-room crowd lined the walls and the balcony to hear McGregor discuss China’s state of affairs and its impact on Americans and North Dakotans. He is chairman of the greater China region for APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs consultancy.

McGregor said he didn’t plan on becoming a China expert, and he told the crowd of mostly young college students know that no matter what their plans are, they don’t know what direction their lives will take.

It’s a big world out there and it is not hard to access, McGregor said.

“For students who want to get involved in China, it’s easy,” McGregor said. “Get on an airplane, go there and schlep around.”

Local impacts

Sol Eagle Road, a Chinese studies major with a minor in Chinese business culture, was one of the students taking in McGregor’s talk. He was also one of only a few in the room who has been to China, spending the fall semester studying abroad in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China.

“I’m very fascinated with the agribusiness industry in North Dakota and the economic benefits we get from exports to China,” Eagle Road said.

Those benefits are more impactful than most North Dakotans know. China’s global footprint is getting deeper because of its rapid growth and globalization, and it directly affects North Dakota’s economy.

“North Dakota has about $800 million in crops that are exported to China every year,” McGregor said. “It’s all about the crops. You have to watch this, because China is going around the world buying farmland in places like Brazil and Ethiopia.

“We may wake up in five years, and China is going to be bringing crops in from its own land in other countries,” he said. “They don’t like any dependence on the U.S., and I think the farm sector here should keep an eye on that.”

The issue of trade with China has been a hot-button issue over the years, including recent discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade agreement between several Pacific Rim countries.

McGregor’s opinion is that TPP is great for the United States and actually excludes China. And because of TPP’s modern trade agreement language, China would have to do some serious reforms to gain membership.

At the end of the day, he said, the world trade economy has to roll along. Whatever happens with TPP or other trade agreements, China’s participation or lack thereof will have a huge effect on everyone, including North Dakotans.

“We’re having some of the greatest business leaders who work internationally say that China really is an important reality even for the heartland of America,” Eagle Road said. “I think that should resonate with a lot of students studying business or languages.”

No ignoring China

China is not foreign to President Kennedy, who, as a business leader and longtime Minnesota congressman, has been there many times.

“I can’t think of a topic more important to talk about than China,” Kennedy said. “It’s big, they’re engaged and they affect everyone’s lives. We can’t ignore them.”

For the first Eye of the Hawk Lecture, a number of forces came together in the right way at the right time, said CoBPA Dean Margaret Williams.

“The College of Business and Public Administration has focused on China in our global outreach programs,” Williams said. “With President Kennedy’s emphasis on globalization of UND and the fact that we could get such an outstanding author and China expert here, it all just fell into place.”

In his closing remarks, Kennedy said that if everyone spent a bit of time every day paying attention to the world around them, they would find life to be more interesting and their careers more profitable. And that’s what he’d like to initiate with this and future Eye of the Hawk Lectures.

Experience in China would be enticing to any employer looking to hire UND CoBPA students, and if there’s one thing that McGregor, Kennedy and Williams agree on, getting started is easy.

“We always want to encourage more students to study abroad, particularly in China, so the message tonight was great for them to hear,” Williams said. “Here’s why you should learn about China. All you need to do is get on a plane and go experience it, and we can help students do that through our programs.”