By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
The continued effort by Mankato city and university officials to build relationships in China could bring ancient Asian cultural artifacts and Chinese student pilots to south-central Minnesota, although both ideas remain in the preliminary planning stages.
Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport and Chinese businessman Changdong Xu, making his fourth visit to Mankato, talked about prospects for both initiatives during a press conference preceding a dinner at the Verizon Wireless Center Thursday.
A tentative plan to bring dozens of Chinese students to Mankato to be trained in MSU's aviation program stalled two years ago, but Xu (pronounced "shoe") said the idea is far from dead. The military now controls all aviation in China but will open air space below 4,000 meters (about 13,000 feet) to general aviation, something that will be officially announced later this year, Xu said through an interpreter.
"You open a brand new emerging general aviation market," Xu said. "... This is a huge market."
The 13,000-feet-and-below restriction means the market will be in helicopters and smaller fixed-wing aircraft, Xu said.
"We believe the number of helicopters soon will flourish in China," he said.
Because MSU has a history of training pilots and because of the relationships Davenport and Mankato city officials have built in China, the university has a strong opportunity to serve what will be a fast-growing demand for Chinese general aviation and emergency response pilots, according to Xu.
"So we will have a lot of cooperation in this field in pilot training and other areas," he said.
Xu is president of the Western Returned Scholars Association Entrepreneur Alliance. The Western Returned Scholars Association is a century-old organization of Chinese who traveled to America and other western countries to attend college.
Xu, who arrived in Mankato and is scheduled to leave today, also announced a potential relationship between MSU and the China Oriental Studies Institute, of which he is vice president. The institute will be seeking to bring western researchers to China to study thousands of artifacts donated by a private collector and send the artifacts to a select number of universities in North America for researchers to study here.
Xu gave certificates to Davenport making him honorary chairman of the China Institute of Oriental Studies and honorary curator of the Oriental Culture and Arts Museum in Tianjin, China. The China Institute of Oriental Studies has also designated MSU as its chief research center in the United States, MSU announced.
Davenport said that initiative is still in an early planning stage but it is likely to involve, among other things, identifying universities in the United States and Canada that would be appropriate to house the artifacts when they are transferred to North America. University officials have also approved the creation of museum studies and oriental art history programs at MSU.
Mayor Eric Anderson, when traveling in China with a Mankato delegation that visited there in December, saw some of the artifacts -- which he said date back as much as 8,000 years.
"These are national treasures of China," Anderson said.
Davenport said he was somewhat taken aback when Xu suggested MSU as the primary research institute for the artifacts, given that many other universities -- including Harvard -- have a background in Asian studies.
"Mr. Xu said to me, 'Harvard already has a bouquet of flowers. This is for you,'" Davenport said.
As for whether MSU might be primarily a coordinator for artifacts being transported to other universities or whether some of the artifacts will actually visit Mankato, Xu offered a guarantee.
"He's 100 percent sure," Xu's interpreter said. "... Of course it will stop here."