Florida univer­sity provost sees Mi­ami as nexus to China

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By AMY HE in New York amyhe@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

For Peng Lu, Mi­ami func­tions for Latin Amer­ica the way Sin­ga­pore or Hong Kong does for South­east Asia. The city acts as a de facto hub for Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries do­ing busi­ness in the US and also gives it the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with other coun­tries, most promi­nently of which in re­cent years has been China.

As China’s in­ter­est in Latin Amer­ica grows, Mi­ami is be­com­ing a more im­por­tant nexus point for the con­ver­gence of Chi­nese in­vestors and their Mi­ami coun­ter­parts, said Lu, who is as­so­ciate provost for in­ter­na­tional pro­grams at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity (FIU).

“Mi­ami’s in­flu­ence in some Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries and the Caribbean’s is sim­i­lar to the [role] that Sin­ga­pore plays in South­east Asia. It’s very in­ter­na­tional and multi­na­tional com­pa­nies put their head­quar­ters there just like they would in Sin­ga­pore” if they op­er­ated in South­east Asia, he said.

What con­trib­utes to Sin­ga­pore’s pop­u­lar­ity in the re­gion is that its le­gal sys­tem “is very sound,” which is a com­pa­ra­ble qual­ity found in Mi­ami, Lu said. “Mi­ami falls within US le­gal ju­ris­dic­tion be­cause it’s part of the coun­try and many Chi­nese have a lot of faith in that,” he said.

Part of Lu’s job as as­so­ciate provost is to at­tract in­vestors in China who might be in­ter­ested in do­ing busi­ness with Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries by giv­ing them the ed­u­ca­tional back­ground nec­es­sary. Dur­ing his time at the univer­sity, the largest state univer­sity in south Florida, Lu over­saw the cre­ation of the FIU Tian­jin Cen­ter and more re­cently helped de­velop the school’s Span­ish pro­gram at Qing­dao Univer­sity.

The Tian­jin cen­ter is an FIU cam­pus in Tian­jin that al­lows stu­dents in the hos­pi­tal­ity ma­jor to re­ceive dual de­grees from FIU and the Tian­jin Univer­sity of Com­merce. Cour­ses are taught in English and the first class of stu­dents grad­u­ated in 2008, with all of them of­fered em­ploy­ment by lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional hos­pi­tal­ity com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to the school’s web­site.

Lu, who trained as an oceanog­ra­pher be­fore join­ing FIU in 2002, sees fur­ther growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Mi­ami-Qing­dao con­nec­tion, with the two cities hav­ing a sis­ter re­la­tion­ship. There are talks to de­velop a Sino-Latino fo­rum on busi­ness with Qing­dao Univer­sity, which would bring to­gether ex­perts and busi­ness lead­ers from China and Latin Amer­ica to dis­cuss busi­ness is­sues of the China-Latin Amer­ica re­la­tion­ship.

Trade be­tween China and Latin Amer­ica in­creased 24-fold be­tween 2000 and 2013, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Amer­i­cas So­ci­ety/Coun­cil of the Amer­i­cas and China is an in­creas­ingly dom­i­nant player in Latin Amer­ica as a top trade part­ner of the re­gion. China has in­vested heav­ily in in­fra­struc­ture projects in the re­gion and the coun­try has be­come the No 1 ex­port des­ti­na­tion for sev­eral Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries like Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela.

FIU has about 270 stu­dents ma­jor­ing in Span­ish in its Qing­dao pro­gram and the school plans to cre­ate a busi­ness ma­jor in Qing­dao as well, which will spe­cial­ize in trade ties be­tween China and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, Lu said.

“The two uni­ver­si­ties help the two cities for their busi­ness [ven­tures] in Latin Amer­ica be­cause Mi­ami is the gate­way to Latin Amer­ica and China wants to do busi­ness with Latin Amer­ica. They have a great in­ter­est in trade: trade be­tween China and Latin Amer­ica in­creased dou­ble dig­its each year. You don’t see this in other ar­eas of the world,” he said.

“China re­ally needs tal­ented pro­fes­sion­als who study Latin Amer­ica in or­der to in­crease the di­rect trade be­tween Latin Amer­ica and China. Be­cause Mi­ami is a spe­cial lo­ca­tion and has in­flu­ence in Latin Amer­ica, the Mi­amibased FIU is the best univer­sity to train them for this pur­pose.”

Com­pared to some Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries that have re­cently been em­broiled in head­line-mak­ing scan­dals and un­rest, Mi­ami is seen as po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally sta­ble by Chi­nese in­vestors, Lu said. Mi­ami has seen Chi­nese in­vest­ment grow over the last few years, with much of Chi­nese cap­i­tal go­ing into the city’s real es­tate and de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. Over­all, China’s in­vest­ment in Florida re­mains low com­pared to that in other US states. Florida at­tracted $1.1 bil­lion in in­vest­ment from China be­tween 2000 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Rhodium Group.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Peng Lu, as­so­ciate provost for in­ter­na­tional pro­grams at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity.

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