JEFFERSON CITY — Despite recent tensions between the U.S. and China, the governor warmly received China's ambassador to the U.S. at a discussion of a trade partnership marked by little tangible progress.
The appearance marked another minor advancement in trade discussions between Gov. Jay Nixon and Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, whose country has been accused of human rights violations and widespread censorship.
The two officials are looking to make Lambert Airport in St. Louis the Midwestern hub of air cargo transport between China and the U.S., but did not provide specifics or expand upon previous announcements.
At a press conference in the governor's office, Zhou said he has no doubts about the project's potential for success.
"I am confident because it has the strong political will needed from both sides," Zhou said. "I am confident because we have seen a solid foundation for further cooperation. I am confident because there are good opportunities ahead."
Nixon, who has been in talks regarding the potential project for over a year now, said the initiative would bring more jobs and money to the state.
"This is a worthy goal, one that would bring us closer together, create jobs for Missourians quickly and continue to lay a foundation for long-term economic growth and transformation," he said.
Under the provisions of the plan, the infrastructure at Lambert Airport in St. Louis would be adapted to accommodate cargo flights to and from China. The proposal suggests cargo would come from, and be distributed throughout, the entire Midwestern region.
The exact nature of that cargo was one concern addressed at the joint press conference.
When one reporter asked whether China would accept shipments of U.S. pork, Zhou said his country has become more lenient in its current regulations.
"During the last strategic economic dialogue, China agreed to resume imports of American pork," Zhou said. "We are in the process of implementing that decision."
China banned U.S. pork products in early 2009 amid H1N1 fears but then lifted the ban in December.
In addition to concerns about pork, Zhou addressed questions regarding U.S. relations with Taiwan in light of an arms deal made public last week.
"The U.S. and Taiwan can only maintain unofficial relations as agreed by China and the United States at the time of normalization," Zhou said. "Obviously, the sale of weapons to Taiwan is not consistent with that commitment."
Zhao said China expects the U.S. to cease its sale of weapons to Taiwan. Nevertheless, Zhao said he did not expect certain areas of dialogue, such as discussions with Missouri officials, to be affected.
The ambassador attended a dinner at the governor's mansion Monday night. He will continue to meet with Missouri officials, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, on Tuesday.