Interview: Hyeok Kim on Shenzhen, China, her December visit there, and Mayor Ed Murray's in May
By Wen Liu Feb. 16, 2016
As Seattle’s first female, Asian American, and very possibly the youngest, deputy mayor, Hyeok Kim has impressed not only her boss Mayor Ed Murray or Seattleites or Asian Americans, but also the people of Shenzhen, China. Early last December, she took a Seattle delegation to the fishing-village-turned industrial powerhouse and metropolis; her smiling face graced the pages of a number of Chinese media reports. Recently, while speaking at the annual banquet of the Washington State China Relations Council, she revealed that Mayor Murray would be vising Shenzhen, too, in May this year. So why did Hyeok Kim visit Shenzhen in the first place? Why is Mayor Murray visiting Shenzhen? What kind of relationship Seattle has with Shenzhen? For these and other questions, WA China Watch Digest presents Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim:
WCWD: First of all, as Mayor Ed Murray’s deputy mayor for external affairs, could you share with the readers as to what those external affairs are that come under your responsibilities?
Deputy Mayor Kim: The mayor has two deputy mayors, myself and the other deputy mayor, Kate Joncas. Both of us are obviously women. Very proud that we have very strong women leadership in our city government. Deputy Mayor Joncas has internal operations. I have a very diverse portfolio. I cover everything from attending events on behalf of the mayor, making sure that we at the mayor’s office have a good pulse on what is going on in and from the city, anything from specific neighborhoods to certain constituencies, our immigrant and refugee communities. I would meet with leaders of those communities. Sometimes I work with faith leaders. The city has many community-based organizations that we partner with.
WCWD: "External” also includes international affairs?
Deputy Mayor Kim: Yes. That has been a very intentional focus for the mayor since he started office to make sure that the city of Seattle is a good strategic partner with our local business community as well as with the State of Washington, King County, and that we are doing all that we can to promote the city in our region as a global city.
WCWD: That brings us to this next question. You visited Shenzhen, China for two days with a delegation last December. What was the purpose of that visit?
Deputy Mayor Kim: Well we were very very fortunate as you know last year, 2015, to have had not only the visit by President Xi of China, but prior to that both the mayor and vice mayor of Shenzhen visit our city. The relationship between the city of Seattle and the city of Shenzhen is a very important one for a variety of reasons. I think most importantly there are some strong characteristics that we share with Shenzhen. For instance, both cities are really trying to promote a spirit of innovation. Some of the companies that we visited on our trip last December included companies like Tencent, Vanke and others that are really at the vanguard in China, promoting innovation, looking at issues of sustainability. These are very important issues here in Seattle.
The purpose of the visit last December was two-fold. One was to do an advance trip of Mayor Murray’s first visit to China, do all the due diligence to identify where there are the opportunities for us to strengthen the economic ties between both cities and regions. The second purpose was this very much intentional city-to-city relationship building. Mayor Murray was incredibly honored last year to have both Mayor Xu and prior to him Vice Mayor Tang of Shenzhen come to Seattle. He wanted to reciprocate in kind. So he sent me last December as an advance trip for his visit this spring. Washington State China Relations Council, especially Kristi Heim and Jim Young, did a good job putting the trip together.
WCWD: So you completed those two tasks?
Deputy Mayor Kim: I did. We had a wonderful visit. The city of Shenzhen, the business community, the business leadership, was incredibly generous with their time, their willingness and enthusiasm to figure out, given the strong similarities between the two cities, how to deepen some of our economic partnerships. We had chance to spend quite a bit of time with the CEO of Kingdee, largest software company in China. The feeling of identifying that we have common values, economic values, but also values that speak to where each of these cities, Seattle and Shenzhen, want to go, in terms of issues around the environment, sustainability, was very eye-opening, and to see that in a very tangible way by visiting the city and the business leaders there.
WCWD: You also held talks with the Shenzhen Foundation. What was that about?
Deputy Mayor Kim: Yes. It was really very interesting. As you probably know, the city of Seattle, our metropolitan Greater Seattle region, is consistently one of the most philanthropic-minded cities and regions in our country. Just by example, the Seattle Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the country, consistently raises the most amount of money of similarly-sized or similar community foundations. Philanthropy in Seattle in our region has lots of support, also a depth of experience. So when we went to the city of Shenzhen, it was really very much an honor for us to see similar culture of philanthropy being given birth in the city of Shenzhen. We had a chance to talk and learn a little bit more about what they are trying to do with the Shenzhen Foundation. It’s all very early. As an example, having a culture of volunteerism was relatively a newer concept the city of Shenzhen tried to promote. That’s something we could easily relate to here in Seattle. We have volunteerism as another example of that philanthropic spirit, very very important here.
WCWD: As you mentioned at the China Council banquet recently that Mayor Murray would be visiting Shenzhen in May, and also Hong Kong. What would he plan to accomplish with the visit?
Deputy Mayor Kim: I think similar to the two goals I mentioned with my December trip, but with the aim towards more concrete deliverables. Certainly there is an aspect to mayor’s visit to Shenzhen and to China in spring that is about continuing to promote the communications and relationship between our two cities and regions. That in and of itself is very important goal. But secondly, mayor is going to China leading a delegation of our business community members. This is a trip that is being strongly supported, led by and organized by the Trade Development Alliance and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Part of our intent to do an advance trip last December was to meet some of the business leaders in Shenzhen, to figure out where some potential areas, opportunities for the economic collaboration could exist. We are currently working on that right now. I don’t have anything specific to share because we are still in the development phase of that. Again, those are the two goals for the mayor. He is in many respects the best and most visible ambassador of our city and our region. He wants to be able to take the advantage of that very important forum he has.
WCWD: You visited Seattle’s sister city Daejeon, Korea in 2014. Do you or Mayor Murray have plans to visit Chongqing, Seattle’s sister city in China?
Deputy Mayor Kim: I don’t know if we are going to for this May trip. But we haven’t 100% solidified mayor’s trip. Again, Washington State China Relations Council is working with us on it. You know Seattle’s sister city relationships are very important to our city and to our region. Many of the relationships have been around for a very long time. Some of our sister city relationships are celebrating their 35th anniversary, for instance, or even longer. Are we still revealing some of the opportunities, maintaining those opportunities for cultural, economic and people-to-people kind of exchanges? I would say it is bit of a mixed bag, with some sister city relationships unable to maintain overtime and others the relationship has whacked. What’s exciting about the relationship building with the city of Shenzhen, for instance, even though they are not Seattle’s official sister city, is the fact that the shared opportunities, shared spirit in culture I think can really open the doors to thinking through where are the economic collaborations, economic cooperation between our two regions that we might not have thought of before.
WCWD: Could this turn into a sister city relationship?
Deputy Mayor Kim: Well, actually the Seattle City Council a couple years ago placed a moratorium on new sister city relationships for all the reasons I just told you. But when Mayor Xu visited last year, we did sign a friendship agreement between our two cities. We are trying to figure out structurally how to maintain those positive communications and cooperation.