Springfield State Journal Register

April 9, 2005

LaHood among lawmakers who visited China


WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and his wife recently returned from a 10-day trip to China, where they heard from policy experts and took in sights such as Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall.

Taking a break from exploring a run for governor, the Peoria Republican and his wife joined dozens of other lawmakers traveling during the two-week congressional break.

"It fosters a better understanding on some of these trade policies that I vote on," said LaHood, noting Illinois is a top exporting state.

The trip was sponsored by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan global policy think tank that seeks to "build a dialogue between parties and edify members of Congress on important global issues of the day," said institute spokesman James Spiegelman, who declined to give the cost of the trip.

The Aspen Institute's congressional policy programs are funded by grants from philanthropic organizations.

While LaHood has been to the Middle East several times, he had never been to China.

"This was obviously a big, big learning experience," LaHood said last week.

"When you're there on the ground and you're talking to people, you get a much better sense of ... the issues that they are dealing with.

"Illinois is a huge agricultural-exporting state, and obviously Caterpillar relies a great deal for its markets on China. So it helps me in dealing with trade issues, in dealing with export issues, in dealing with intellectual property rights issues that we have to deal with, and certainly the environmental degradation is obviously an important issue," he said.

The lawmakers and spouses visited four cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, Xian and Beijing.

While Peoria-based Caterpillar has a significant presence in China, LaHood said he didn't visit any of its facilities. He followed the Aspen Institute's itinerary, which included policy discussions from trade to the latest assessments on North Korean nuclear capabilities.

LaHood said the trip didn't interfere with his in-state travels to promote himself as a possible candidate for governor.

"I didn't want to pass up this opportunity because obviously if I decide to run for governor, my international travel is going to be very limited ... so I wanted to take advantage of it," he said.

LaHood, who is of Lebanese descent, said he raised $40,000 from Arab-Americans who gathered for an annual dinner in Washington last week. He also plans fund-raisers in Arab-American communities in California, Michigan and Florida during the Memorial Day recess.