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Ventura: No talk of human rights during trade mission
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
June 7, 2002


Gov. Jesse Ventura is heading for a week-long trade mission to China. Roughly 100 government and business leaders will join Ventura to help promote Minnesota products and services in the world's most populous country. The delegation is believed to be the largest ever assembled by a state government. While it's billed as a trade mission, some are pressing Ventura to carry an additional message on human rights.

Two local China experts and the Marketplace Beijing bureau chief joined MPR's Midday on June 6, 2002 to talk about the governor's trade mission to China. (Listen).

Ventura has long been an advocate for free trade and has lobbied vigorously for stronger trade relations with China. The Chinese economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and is quickly becoming one of the top markets for Minnesota goods.

The state Department of Trade and Economic Development estimates Minnesota exports to China have grown by 84 percent in the last four years. Ventura's interest in the issue took him to Washington, D.C., two years ago to argue for permanent normal trade relations with China, a step that opened the door to China's entry into the World Trade Organization last fall.

Ventura says Chinese officials paid close attention to the trade debate, including his personal involvement. "In fact, I had some Chinese people here tell me that they will be under the attitude that they owe me one," Ventura said. "I'm happy to be in that position because, again, to me this has the potential of being the largest trading partner in the world. And we certainly want Minnesota to be there ready to go on the ground floor for our economy."

The Chinese visit marks Ventura's sixth foreign mission. In the past, he's made trips to Japan, Mexico, and Germany, and two to Canada. Dramatic breakthroughs or business developments are unlikely. Ventura and others say the real importance of the trade missions is to develop contacts and build relationships. They say the payoffs come down the road.

Tim Laske, a technical director for Minneapolis-based Medtronic who'll accompany Ventura on the China mission, says having a high-profile delegation is a big boost to business leaders. "It serves as a bit of a spotlight where we're more likely to draw higher level officials in. The people that are attending the meetings are probably people that most of the companies individually could never get together in one room," Laske said.

Laske is traveling as part of the medical technology delegation. Other areas of focus include agriculture, information technology, and general business development. Some are urging that the governor not stick strictly to business. Last legislative session, the state Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling on Ventura to discuss human rights issues with Chinese officials.

Of particular concern has been the crackdown on practitioners of Falun Gong - a meditative movement based on traditional Chinese rituals.

"We think it's important for the governor to talk about this and to express (that) these are values of Minnesotans," says John Nania, a local practioner who was briefly arrested and then deported last year in Beijing for supporting other Falun Gong adherents. "Minnesota values individual freedoms, justice, human rights, and it's an important part of our culture here."

Ventura says he has no intentions of broaching the subject with his Chinese hosts. The governor says it's not his job to discuss foreign policy, and he says the fastest way to improve human rights in China is to develop strong ties with the country and its officials.

"You're not going to change China without having a relationship with them. So our job is to establish good relations with China and then work on getting those changes to take place. But ultimately it comes down to the only people who can change China are the Chinese," Ventura said.

The trade mission arrives first in Beijing. The delegation will also make a stop in Shanghai before returning to Minnesota.