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California Governor’s Trip to China Shows Promise in US-China State-Level Collaboration

The encounter was marked by warm words and friendliness, suggesting a renewed spirit of cooperation in the China-U.S. relationship, which has been strained in recent years.

This visit was not only seen as a step towards setting the stage for a potential meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November, but it also underscored the existing bond between China and California. It emphasized that despite broader tensions between the two nations, cooperation is still feasible at the state level.

The welcoming reception Newsom received in China sends a strong signal that partnering with California is not only desired but also politically endorsed. This demonstrates that even when national-level relations between the U.S. and China face challenges on various fronts, certain levels of collaboration can persist.

U.S.-China relations have faced significant strains since 2018, influenced by a range of issues, including trade disputes, the origins of COVID-19, and the security crackdown in Hong Kong. These challenges have affected both national-level interactions and state-level engagements.

Although U.S. states’ involvement with China has decreased over the past five years due to the changing political landscape, China values state-level partnerships with U.S. states as practical business relationships that do not necessarily involve political complexities.

California, in particular, has a long-established and enduring relationship with China. This partnership was initiated by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over a decade ago, focusing on climate cooperation. His Democratic successor, Jerry Brown, continued to nurture this relationship, even during the Trump administration’s changing stance toward China. At one point, California had a staff member based in China, further strengthening the connection.

California is also home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the U.S., fostering historical and cultural ties that enhance this relationship.

The collaboration between California and China mainly centers on the sharing of technical information and insights into how climate initiatives are implemented. It often involves discussions on practical matters, including financing electric buses, establishing charging infrastructure, and numerous smaller decisions that are essential for achieving climate goals.

Additionally, California can learn from China’s experience in offshore wind technologies, as China is a global leader in this field. Politically, Newsom’s visit allowed him to enhance his diplomatic credentials by engaging with Chinese leaders on a key policy issue: climate change.

Newsom’s administration is committed to expanding solar power and clean energy as part of the state’s goal to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. California state regulators have also taken steps to ban the sale of most new gasoline-powered cars in the state by 2035.

While Newsom has repeatedly stated that he is not interested in pursuing the presidency, he is widely seen as a potential future Democratic contender.

From the Chinese perspective, the meeting with Newsom could lead to economic opportunities. Experts suggest that one of the reasons Xi Jinping chose to meet with Newsom is the economic challenges China is facing, and California offers the potential for foreign investment.

China’s economic downturn, combined with high youth unemployment and a weak real estate sector, underscores the need for engagement with state-level governments for pragmatic economic collaboration.

Despite some criticism related to press access and concerns about human rights issues, the trip underlines the importance of state-level engagement in forging economic and scientific partnerships with China.

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