China, State Moving to Strengthen Bond
A delegation from Hunan Province in China visited Moore County last week to further strengthen economic ties with North Carolina.
In her office at the Old State Capitol building, Gov. Bev Perdue met with Laishan Yu, executive vice governor of Hunan Province, who led the delegation. The two, working through interpreters, discussed the growing relationship between North Carolina and Hunan.
Yu proposed that Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco bring the governor to Hunan for a visit.
"I would ask him to make that happen for us sometime," Perdue said.
The relationship between the two states was forged in blood long ago during World War II, when Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, a Flying Tiger fighter pilot from High Falls, was shot down in the mountains of south central China.
Villagers buried his then-unidentified body as a hero near a Ming Dynasty tower on Santai Mountain just outside the city of Guidong. For 63 years, residents from Guidong honored the sacrifice of their "American Pilot" in fighting Japanese invaders by bringing flowers to the place. After DNA identified Upchurch and he was reburied between his parents in the family plot at High Falls United Methodist Church, Hunan proposed that it and North Carolina become sister states and pursue economic and cultural ties.
The Upchurch family asked state Sen. Harris Blake, of Pinehurst, to facilitate that request. In 2007, he led a delegation to Guidong for the dedication of a memorial to the fallen fighter pilot at the spot where he was buried for so many years.
Yu and his delegation stayed at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. On Saturday morning, they signed agreements with Caleb Miles, CEO of the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau, to spur tourism between Hunan and North Carolina.
The delegation then visited farms in Moore County and stopped for a final time to pay respects at the Upchurch grave on the hillside above the Deep River in High Falls. Dale Upchurch, Hoyle Upchurch's nephew, and his son James, representing the family, accompanied the delegation both in Raleigh and Saturday.
Dr. Lian Xie, a professor at N.C. State University and a founder with Blake of the Carolina China Council -- a newly formed coordinating body for many N.C. Chinese/American groups in the state -- assisted in all the meetings, acting sometimes as translator and as a travel guide
During a luncheon Friday at the Capital City Club in Raleigh, Blake assembled a group of state economic leaders to meet with the Hunan delegation.
Before 2005, Hunan was a slowly-developing province, according to information supplied by Blake's office. Its gross domestic product (GDP) and economic growth always stayed in the lower to middle level of the whole country.
Hunan was and is still is a big agricultural province, but a few years ago, the provincial government put more effort into industrial development, which finally helped the province move beyond agriculture. In 2008, Hunan's GDP reached $164 billion, a 12.8 percent growth.
It was something Perdue took note of during her session with the vice governor. She was told Hunan's population of some 70 million people would make it eight times the size of North Carolina, while their financial levels are nearly the same.
"It is larger than I thought," Perdue said. "But our state and your state are comparable -- I mean, in terms of your budget and our budget, our budgets are comparable."
She said she had done some homework on Hunan before their meeting.
"I looked at you yesterday on the Internet -- I 'Googled' Hunan," she said, which brought some laughter from he delegates when the term Google was translated. "I understand clearly that you have an agricultural advantage for your country. We understand that China is an important trade partner for North Carolina and America. Hunan is part of that partnership."
At the earlier luncheon, Blake spoke of his experience during the 2007 visit before presenting Yu and the delegates with gifts from his district, including pottery.
"This is pottery made by our famous Ben Owen." Blake said. "Like those we took to China, this is made from clay that came from within 500 feet of Lt. Hoyle Upchurch's grave in Moore County. Each one in the delegation will get one like this.
"Mr. Governor, this vase is one of our famous products. Each vase has on the bottom -- put on by Ben Owen -- it says, 'Lasting friendship, August 21st, between Hunan Province and North Carolina.' It is signed by Ben Owen."
He gave them bottles of wine bearing the emblem of the Flying Tigers.
Blake then introduced Crisco. He stated the position of Perdue's administration on international trade.
"It is critical that we form partnerships around the world," Crisco said. "It is very appropriate that we formalize our cooperative understanding with our sister province in China."
Acting on behalf of the state, Crisco signed a document of understanding. Yu signed for Hunan Province.
While the agreement is not binding under international law, both states promised to further economic ties and mutual understanding on a continuing basis from year to year.
On Friday evening, the group met for a reunion dinner at CCNC withsome of the members of the 2007 delegation to the Upchurch memorial dedication in Guidong.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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