Learning how to run a river

Friday, January 13, 2006
Luo Hongbo of ASM China Corp. prepared to take a photo of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority facilities during the Chinese delegation's visit on Thursday. (Don Frazier)

As relations between China and the United States continue to become more open, the Asian government is turning to the United States for economic and development advice. On Thursday several Chinese government officials and researchers came to Southeast Missouri seeking some of that advice.

Administrators with the Southeast Missouri Port Authority and the Missouri Department of Transportation spent much of the day entertaining a delegation of 18 Chinese bureaucrats and specialists from the national, federal and provincial levels.

The delegation's mission was to observe the operation of inland ports in the United States to find out ways to improve the Chinese port system. After contact with the federal government, they were referred to Missouri because of its shipping on two major rivers -- the Mississippi and the Missouri.

"Since the Mississippi River is the greatest river in the United States, we knew a long time ago about the excellent transportation system," said Zhou Liang, division chief of China's Department of Waterborne Transportation and leader of the delegation.

Zhou and the other delegation members were assisted by interpreters, four of them from the Cape Girardeau area and one who works with MoDOT.

"We're enthusiastic to learn from our experience in the United States," Zhou said.

Delegation members came largely from southeastern China, where they are either provincial officials or run ports. That area of China has a great deal of inland shipping, said Zhou.

Zhou said the Chinese inland port system is antiquated. As the economy grows, so does the need for shipping. China has a great need to increase shipping efficiency by increasing shipping loads, said Zhou.

A delegation visited the Rhine River in Europe last year, but this is the first trip of its kind to the United States. Southeast Missouri was the first stop on a trip that will take the delegation to larger urban centers like Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles.

The SEMO Port is similar in size to many of China's inland ports, said port director Dan Overbey, and that is the primary reason for the delegation's visit.

After being treated to lunch, members of the delegation were given a tour of the SEMO Port facilities, where they were acquainted with the businesses and operations. At times the delegation seemed more like tourists than on official business, snapping pictures of the port and their American hosts.

A presentation by MoDOT and local port officials followed at the port offices along with a lengthy question and answer session.

Delegation members were especially intrigued by the relationship between the port and federal, state and county governments. The port was created by Cape Girardeau and Scott counties jointly in 1975, with initial costs funded by a 25-cent sales tax that lasted four years.

Overbey explained, however, that the port is an independent entity financially, assisted by grants from the state and federal level.

Sherrie Martin, Waterways Program manager with MoDOT, talked to the delegation about Missouri's port system, which currently provides 1,400 jobs in the state.

Martin said Missouri agreed to host the Chinese delegation so both sides will come away from the experience with more knowledge. She called the SEMO Port the "premiere rural port in the state," making it a good example for the Chinese.

Overbey agrees the trip could help both the Chinese and the ports they visit, citing the 400 years of experience China has in inland shipping.

Zhou expressed the delegation's thanks.

"This will help when we go back to China to develop our own interior navigation system," Zhou said.

The next stop for the delegation was dinner at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston Thursday night before continuing on to tour the Pemiscot County port today.


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