Photo by Northwestern Michigan College. A Northern Michigan event series will work to connect the dots between two worlds divided by an ocean: Northwestern Michigan College’s International Affairs Forum will present its ‘China Today: Competitor or Partner?’ conference, which looks to dissect the web of relations—from business to art—that intertwine China and the United States.  Artists, intellectuals and professionals all focusing on China will converge in Traverse City on Thursday, June 5th and Friday, June 6th for the 20th edition of the International Affairs Forum. MyNorth’s Evan Perry spoke with one of the conference’s organizers, Karen Segal, to learn about what attendees can expect from this Sino-centric forum. The event’s symposiums will take place at the City Opera House, Hagerty Center (pictured above) and Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.

Tickets to the IAF’s China Today Forum are available at

This is the 20th anniversary of the International Affairs Forum.  What makes China a topic worthy of this milestone?

China and its culture are things that we should all be very acquainted with.  Regardless of whether you have a favorable opinion of China or not, the fact is that China has an economy that will soon outstrip America’s and a population of 1.3 billion people. If we don’t know about China, we’re setting ourselves up for conflict and misunderstanding, which is not a good thing as we continue to interact more and more with China for business, education and politics.  We need to make a special effort to learn about China because it’s so geographically distant.

We see an increasing audience of locals interested in international events, so while we’ve done lectures in the past, we wanted to find ways to appeal to people with broader interests, especially in the business and cultural worlds. Since China is such an important economic partner and cultural powerhouse, we felt like covering China really fit the bill.

This conference is also a great opportunity for organizations who are already engaged with China to seek community support in the context of the overall relationship we want to discuss.

What types of people will be giving presentations at the conference?

The discussions are designed to be dynamic; no session lasts longer than 50 minutes.  They’re really based on engagement between experts.  For instance, the first panel is all about doing business in China: Ted Plafker, the Economist’s chief correspondent in Beijing, will join Roch Lambert from Rec Boat Holdings—formerly Four Winns—and Alan DeVore from Graceland Foods to talk about what it means to be doing business in China right now.  People can hear firsthand stories and ask questions about business relationships between consumers and businesses in both China and the US.

Among others, there’s a session on creative thought in China today, and how art is affecting Chinese society.  Many people have heard of Ai Weiwei, but we’re going to hear from three other important Chinese artists to gain insight into their society as it’s expressed through art.  We want to promote dialogue between speakers and to allow for the audience to ask questions.

Will this forum reach a definitive answer to the ‘Competitor or Partner’ question?

Most people think China is both a competitor and partner.  The experts on Chinese foreign policy and culture talk about being realistic about what we can expect from both sides, but that ambiguity still demands that we both know about the other culture.

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