<!–enpproperty 2012-04-30 07:31:52.0Mary Katherine Smith in ShanghaiAmerican diplomat believes it’s all about interactionAmerican diplomat believes it’s all about interaction1161353Holiday People2@cndy/enpproperty–>
Robert Griffiths’ extensive travels in China have helped him in his mission as US Consul General in Shanghai. Provided for China Daily
With his days full of meetings pertaining to consular services, other diplomats and US companies, Robert Griffiths, United States Consul General in Shanghai, may find his life to be repetitive, maybe even mundane.
Even so, Griffiths, who first came to China in the 1980s and is now on his third tour and 12th year here, tries to make the most of everything by using his experience and knowledge of the region to his full advantage.
Griffiths’ interest in China began at college, where he pursued a major in Asian studies and took a class called “Asian Political Thought”.
“The first day we walked into class and the professor was Mongolian,” he said.
“He said, ‘I know that you’re here to study all of Asia’s political thought, but there’s really only one kind of political thought that’s worth studying and that’s Chinese political thought’.” During the semester-long course, he and his classmates never studied philosophy from any later than 200 BC.
“That kindled my interest in Chinese history,” he said. “Being in China, you can’t go to any place that doesn’t have a special claim to some facet of Chinese history, because there’s so much of it.”
Griffiths has tried to see as much of those historical reminders as possible, having traveled extensively throughout the Chinese mainland. His knowledge and interest have proved essential in helping him reach out and share American values with his host nation.
“The most important thing that the consul general does is to build bridges between the US and China,” he said, and the consulate takes part in many different activities, all of which are important.
“All of us who work here recognize how those bridges benefit everybody on both sides. We’re better off when we’re interacting with China; China’s better off when interacting with the US.”
In the almost 30 years he has spent serving in the region, Griffiths has seen big changes in China.
When he first visited the country in the 1980s, “all I really remember is that we were out on rural roads and the only vehicles we saw were trucks that only had one front wheel”, he said.
Nowadays, the cars he sees are much more modern, but, “I think the biggest change has been that everything is available and it’s really very expensive”.
Griffiths also finds himself on the road much more than he had been when he toured Shanghai from 1997 to 2000.
“Back then, Shanghai was just getting going, and we were very busy interacting with Shanghai,” he said. Now Shanghai is well established and more attention is being paid to slightly smaller cities, as well as to developing ones.
“We feel we get more bang for the buck out on the road than we often do in a city as well-developed as Shanghai.”
The trips to surrounding cities and provinces are a meaningful way of showing both the US’ interest in China and its commitment to the country.
“All of that is important not only just to promote our visibility and interests, but to model our values.”
The consulate has taken on an online presence and has begun writing blogs about its events and trips. One goal of both practices is to make the consulate general and the US more approachable.
“We try to blog and show different aspects of the work that we’re doing, and it is fun to do that kind of stuff,” Griffiths said. “The US is an open society; we believe in free flow of information and transparency. I want to reflect those values and be a good example of them when I’m out and about.”
Griffiths said one of the most important parts of his job is to make sure that he represents the US well in China. He also wants the Chinese people to know that Americans both respect them and want to work with them as friends.
“We’re pretty straightforward, pretty down to earth,” he says of Americans and Chinese. “And I find it very easy to make Chinese friends, and that makes it a great pleasure to be in China.”
While Griffiths has spent much time in both Shanghai and Beijing, he does prefer one city over the other.
“We had a wonderful time in Beijing, and it has a lot to offer,” he said, adding that his preference nonetheless goes to Shanghai.
“I am still American, and Shanghai just has a more international flavor. It’s just such an exciting, world city, as well as being a Chinese city.”
(China Daily 04/30/2012 page5)