Communist China Fawns over Visiting Governor Gavin Newsom

Chinese state media on Monday gushed over visiting Governor Gavin Newsom of California, praising the “sincere and warm” Democrat for his “deep connection” with China and hoping his week-long trip would “play a positive role for bilateral ties.”

Newsom’s deep ties with the Chinese Communist government included sending his lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, to attend the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s massive effort to spread its political influence across the developing world, and even into Europe, by persuading client states to take out gigantic loans from Chinese banks for dubious infrastructure projects.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, attends the fireside chat at the Hong Kong University in Hong Kong, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.  (AP Photo/Anthony Kwan)

While the rest of the U.S. government was keeping BRI at arm’s length and criticizing it as “debt colonialism,” Newsom’s lieutenant governor not only attended the forum but spoke at the event. Although China is the world’s worst polluter by a very wide margin, Kounalakis lavished praise on BRI for driving “positive action” on climate change. She said California and China have signed several memorandums of understanding related to climate issues.

China’s state-run Global Times on Monday waxed poetic over the “precious friendship” between Newsom and the authoritarian regime in Beijing:

It is anticipated that Governor Newsom’s visit will yield significant results, not only expanding exchanges and cooperation in a variety of areas, including commerce, climate change, technology, education, culture, and youth, but also carrying forward China-California traditional friendship and cooperative relationship. It is no exaggeration to say that this traditional friendship is a significant catalyst for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the US. It holds great significance not only for the China-US relationship but also for global peace and stability. In the eyes of some American media outlets, the unique historical relationship between California and China is the main reason for it to become a model of “subnational diplomacy” between China and the US. California is one of the leading states for Chinese Americans and frequently engages in people-to-people exchanges with China. At the same time, California is by far the biggest state economy in the US and has the closest economic and trade relations with China. Whether it is in the high-tech industry or the agricultural sector, there is great potential for cooperation. In terms of climate issues, California has been negotiating with various provinces in China on climate issues since the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger. California announced in August a new initiative with the Chinese province of Hainan in the global fight against climate change. 

The Global Times praised Newsom’s administration in California for being more “rational and stable in dealing with its relations with China” than the rest of the U.S. government. The Communist paper hoped the rest of America would learn from Newsom’s example:

Unfortunately, the American public opinion has shown a lot of caution and concern toward this visit, saying that it “takes a risk on China” and “walks a diplomatic tightrope.” Some even warned Governor Newsom to “be very careful that he doesn’t appear in Washington to be kind of violating federal government policy towards China.” To a certain extent, this reflects the negative impact of the US government’s policy of containment and suppression toward China, as well as the increasingly extreme anti-China perception and bias in the political arena, which greatly hinders the economic and trade exchanges and pragmatic cooperation between China and the US at the local level. 
Objectively speaking, due to the increasingly radical strategic orientation of the US toward containment and suppression of China, and the worsening anti-China public opinion atmosphere, it remains to be seen whether Governor Newsom’s visit could achieve a breakthrough in the overall improvement of China-US relations. However, as long as the communication and cooperation between China and the US at the local level can continue, it will be considered as an achievement

Another lengthy Global Times article on Newsom’s arrival feted him as a “top surrogate” for President Joe Biden whose visit to Beijing, Shanghai, several key Chinese provinces, and Hong Kong will “promote bilateral economic development and tourism and encourage cultural exchanges.”

The tyrants of Beijing are clearly hoping Newsom’s visit will help to wipe away the last vestiges of decoupling or “de-risking” from China in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and would help legitimize China’s monstrous actions in Hong Kong, where a blatantly illegal and autocratic “national security law” was imposed to crush the massive 2019 pro-democracy movement.  

“Newsom is the regional leader of the state where the upcoming APEC Leaders’ Meeting will be held, so he may bring up some expectations on behalf of the U.S. leaders in an unofficial way,” Chinese Academy of Social Sciences fellow Lu Xiang told the Global Times.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is surrounded by journalists after attending the fireside chat at the Hong Kong University in Hong Kong, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. The Governor of California said on Monday his state will always be a partner on climate issues no matter how the U.S. presidential election next year turns out during his week-long trip to China, in an attempt to reinforce his region’s role as a global leader on climate change. (AP Photo/Anthony Kwan)
California governor Gavin Newsom speaks on the state’s experience in combating climate change at the University of Hong Kong on October 23, 2023. Newsom is next heading to the Chinese mainland for a weeklong trip focused on climate action and economic partnership. (XINQI SU/AFP via Getty)

APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, scheduled for November 11-17 in San Francisco. President Joe Biden has teased a potential meeting with dictator Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit.

Lu predicted Newsom’s position as governor of an unshakably left-wing state would pull the Biden administration inexorably in China’s direction on various policy issues, permanently quashing all discussion of holding Beijing accountable for the coronavirus pandemic and muting issues such as China’s use of forced labor. He anticipated Newsom would have some “constructive suggestions” for Biden after the APEC summit.

“Against the backdrop where the minds of federal government officials and their policies have been influenced by geopolitical competition and hegemonic mindsets, communication and exchange between U.S. localities and China have become particularly vital and need to be strengthened,” the Global Times wrote, laying out a strategy that inevitably works only one way since the iron-fisted authoritarian government of Beijing would never allow comparable influence on Chinese national policy by lowly regional officials.

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