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US envoy to China's top priority: jobs back home

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke's top priority is creating more jobs back home. Locke discusses the effort to increase trade between the U.S. and China with NBC's Adrienne Mong.

By NBC News' Adrienne Mong and Ed Flanagan

BEIJING—It’s been often said that the Chinese are stealing American jobs.

Now it sounds like they’re creating them.

At least this week it has seemed so.

First off, the new U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke announced a blueprint for Sino-American economic and trade relations.  Chief among the former commerce secretary's goals is jobs creation back home. 

“[M]y top priority here is to work with the American business community in China to support President Obama’s job-creating efforts,” said Locke in a speech before a joint American Chamber of Commerce and U.S.-China Business Council luncheon.

In order to achieve that, Locke will strive to double American exports to China by 2015 and boost Chinese investments in the U.S.  The latter is, again, part of a larger initiative under the Obama administration called Select USA.

“Instead of making it in China – [make] it in America and employ American workers,” Locke told NBC News this week.  Foreign direct investment in the United States, according to the ambassador, is responsible for the employment of 4 to 5 million Americans in America.

The new emphasis on foreign direct investment echoes Obama’s jobs speech earlier this month, which noted, “And we’re going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America.”

That trend is already taking root, though driven more by other factors, as our colleague Ian Williams reported this week.  A tightening labor pool and rising costs (thanks to the strengthening Chinese currency and inflation) mean that for some American businesses, it makes more sense to move some of their manufacturing back home.

Courting Chinese investment
Locke intends to make his sales pitch to invest in America during five trade and investment missions across China in the coming year. The tours are also designed to help U.S. companies get “better access to provincial and local governments [and] introduce them to potential buyers and customers” in order to keep increasing U.S. exports to China.

Also this week, the state of Illinois signed a $200 million deal with China’s second-largest wind turbine manufacturer, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology.  (We profiled the company in a documentary about the race for renewable energy that aired on CNBC last year.) 

The deal means a dozen permanent jobs and 100-plus construction jobs will be created, according to the office of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

We launch a new series
Quinn is one of several governors who’ve been trooping through town trying to drum up trade and investment.  And it got us thinking that it might be worthwhile taking a look at every U.S. state that has a representative office in China. These folks are on the frontline of selling to the Chinese, and we wondered how they pitch their state and how effective they can be. 

After all, the impact of China on employment in the United States is a bit murky.  Economists and statisticians argue all the time over whether globalization – or more specifically, the growth of the Chinese economy – is good for American workers. 

We know U.S. exports to China, in the decade 2000-2010, soared 468 percent to $91.9 billion, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.  China is the third largest market for American goods and services, well behind Canada ($248.2 billion) and Mexico ($163.3 billion).  But considering that the other two are contiguous to the U.S. and share a trade agreement, it's not surprising that they would be the two largest trade partners. But, their growth rates were in the low double digits for the same decade.

And then there are the individual states themselves, which saw phenomenal growth in the same period.  Oregon, for one, clocked 1,227 percent growth in its exports to China.  South Carolina, which has a very busy trade office in Shanghai, saw 1,596 percent growth in exports.

Chinese foreign direct investment in the U.S. has seen less spectacular results. But as its foreign exchange reserves continue to grow – and concentrating on U.S. treasury bills seems so much less appealing – China is under pressure to diversify its investments.

Between 2005 and 2010, Chinese foreign direct investment in America outpaced that of any other source, now totaling almost $6 billion dollars.  It's still meagre compared to direct investments from Europe or Japan, but the rate of growth is noteworthy; in two years, Chinese direct investment in the U.S. jumped 400 percent.

So starting next Friday, Behind The Wall will profile different states and their trade and investment track records with China. 

Along the way, we’ve learned that green technology is a key growth sector for both the Americans and Chinese.  Virtually every state we’ve talked to is looking to woo the Chinese in green tech – whether it be helping to upgrade renewable energy technology or develop environmentally efficient production chains –so distinguishing one state from another will be critical to winning those investments.

And then there are the other, more quirky or unexpected industries: carp, gambling, coal.

Up next week: Nevada.

Their exports to China rose nearly 5,000 percent from 2000 to 2010.

And it’s not just casinos they’re selling.