Washington State China Relations Council Names New Leader

By Steve Wilhelm, December 26, 2013, Puget Sound Business Journal

Former journalist and China expert Kristi Heim has been appointed executive director of the Washington State China Relations Council, one of the state’s primary trade organizations.

Heim will replace former director Joe Borich, who retired this fall after 16 years at the head of the council, and who was lauded at a high-profile October event.

Heim most recently worked for the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington as assistant director of the Confucius Institute. She also led other China initiatives for the Jackson School.

“We’re excited to have Kristi take on leadership of the council,” said Michael Rawding, who chairs the council’s board, in a statement. “Her knowledge of China and Washington state, and entrepreneurial ideas to build economic and cultural relations between the two, are the perfect combination to guide the council into the future.”

China is Washington state’s largest trading partner in terms of imports and exports, buying $14.5 billion of Washington products (mostly airplanes) in 2012, and shipping $8.5 billion in Chinese products through and to Washington, according to figures from the World Institute for Strategic Economic Research.

“Through the council, I believe I can help the state and region better promote our strengths and our brand in China,” Heim wrote in an email interview. “I am convinced that we have a chance to make a difference in building a better world, and we can start right here.”

The council is the oldest non-governmental statewide trade association in the United States that focuses on China. More than 100 companies are members.

Heim stressed her interest in building new kinds of connections between groups and individuals in China, and counterparts in Washington state.

“I aim to help build our networks within China to encompass business and trade organizations in provinces and cities to establish links between members on both sides,” she wrote. “I hope such networks can help more people find new economic opportunities, and work together to improve the environment or advance public health or spark technology innovation.”

Heim has shown networking skills in recent years, by founding contextChina.com, an online forum and newsletter that supports connections between the Pacific Northwest and China.

She also was co-founder of the Asia Business Forum, a unique Seattle-area pan-Asian business organization intended to encourage connections among people of Asian origin from different countries who normally would not contact one another.

In her email, she listed two new council-backed initiatives in this arena:

• Boao Forum for Asia – This China-based forum brings together leaders from around Asia and elsewhere to discuss global issues, and will come to Seattle in 2014 for its first-ever North American meeting.

• Yabuli China Entrepreneurs Forum – The China Relations Council has signed a collaboration pact with this independent and influential organization, which represents Chinese entrepreneurs.

“I plan to continue to build on the impressive legacy of the council, which over the past 35 years has been the most important China-related business organization in the state,” she wrote. “But I also hope to bring in more dynamism, creativity and focus to reach more companies and organizations to help them get better connected to opportunities in China, as well as to help Chinese investors understand how to connect with potential partners in Washington state.”

Prior to joining the University of Washington, Heim wrote for the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Seattle Times and the San Jose Mercury News.

She speaks Mandarin, and has been a World Affairs Fellow, a Jefferson Fellow and recipient of the Blakemore Freeman Fellowship for Advanced Asian Language Study.

She had been volunteering with the Washington State China Relations Council for the past year, and served at vice chairman of the board. In her email she said she “Discovered an incredible group of partners, from our own board to the Trade Development Alliance to state Commerce Department, all seeking ways to build stronger ties with China.”

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