Jerry Brown Leaves the Party Behind in China

Governor Jerry Brown is just back from his first major trip abroad during this incarnation as California's governor. It coincided with the annual state Democratic convention, but that didn't give him pause as he had bigger fish to fry in China.

While he was away, Brown got some good news from back home with California state revenues continuing to run higher than projected, by nearly $400 million in March alone, the state's chronic budget crisis now in the rear view mirror.

Which only made sense, because Brown's "California Trade and Investment Mission To China" was primarily about money. Brown announced new deals for Chinese investment in California totaling close to $2 billion, with business people making a panoply of additional connections on the trip.

Brown departed for China the day after a private celebration of his 75th birthday on April 7th. He and First Lady/Special Advisor Anne Gust Brown led a large private sector delegation of Californians, some 90-strong, organized by the Brown Administration and the Bay Area Council, a moderate business organization based in San Francisco, with a few administration officials and old friends along as well.

Governor Jerry Brown, riding high-speed rail across China from Beijing to Shanghai. China built 5,000 miles of high-speed rail in just seven years. Brown is pushing the California high-speed rail program, the only major one in America, forward against heavy opposition.

Brown was out to show that the state's dynamism and economic leadership in technology, entertainment, aerospace, and agriculture, and its expertise in environmental protection, make it a fit partner for China, the world's second largest economy with one of the world's most troubled environments. The PRC is already the third largest trade partner for the world's ninth largest economy, trailing only Mexico and Canada in economic exchange with California.

He also went to explore China's feat of installing 5,000 miles of high-speed rail lines in the last several years, putting aside all talk of other issues involving the PRC which are frequently aired in my longer pieces on the Obama Administration and America's geopolitical pivot to the Asia-Pacific, the archive for which is here. Brown heads up the only major high-speed rail program in America.

As he departed, Brown had in hand a very good and intriguing Financial Times profile. With his pithy observations of the past 50 years -- including a chat with JFK about "Red China" and telling insights on the unsustainability of both conventional economic development and the state's public pension system -- it's well worth reading. Plus, it has some amazing photos from over the years.

Brown, incidentally, made no announcement about his re-election next year, but he did say this: "I have no intention of walking off the stage here, now that I'm on it." As readers know, I've always said he is going for his fourth term as governor of California.

While in China, Brown missed the second of three California Democratic Party conventions in his renewed governorship to date. He had minor surgery just before the 2011 convention and made a brief appearance at the 2012 convention, after putting on full-court press convention performances in 2009 and 2010.

He didn't miss much. It was a pretty routine affair, with no national figures coming in.

Party officers were elected, including current state Democratic chairman John Burton. The former San Francisco/Marin congressman and state Senate president pro tem, now 80, has served as state party chairman for the past four years.

The California Democratic convention ran its course well before it ended with the obligatory resolutions Sunday closing session resolutions decrying Prop 13, fracking, and education reform opposed by the teachers union. Actually, I think it ran its course by Friday night.

Burton kept it a pretty low-key affair in Brown's absence, with a notable lack of triumphalism about the big Democratic wins last November. Not that Burton didn't get off a few of his patented zingers, mostly about Brown being represented at the convention by famed First Dog Sutter Brown, by far the best known Corgi outside Buckingham Palace. And Brown being no doubt petrified by his potential 2014 opponents, including his "pissing his pants" at the thought of running against former Republican Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado.

Many who want to be governor had their convention audition speeches Saturday. But with Brown's re-election campaign all but announced, there are five more state conventions before the next contested Democratic gubernatorial primary. A lot can happen between now and then. And something tells me that not all the top 2018 candidates were at the convention.

Brown led California's delegation to a wide array of events and meetings in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. After Shenzhen, China's newest mega-city, he and the first lady went briefly to Hong Kong -- which in the not so old British colonial days was the only place anyone could go for business -- before flying back to San Francisco. For all his aversion to big parties at home, Brown presided at some major shindigs in China, especially in Shanghai and Beijing.

Brown got his trip off to a flying start in Beijing, meeting with China's new premier, commerce minister, and environmental minister, announcing one of the biggest Chinese investments in the US.

Brown, who hosted new Chinese President Xi Jinping on a California visit last year, naturally praised Chinese ingenuity, noting that the big push there into renewable energy is making Chinese solar photovoltaics much cheaper. Noting also the large presence of Chinese-Americans in California and Chinese students in California universities, he urged more Chinese technologists to come to California, supporting the push for more visas.

Last but decidedly not least, he announced a $1.5 billion Chinese investment in Oakland.

Joining US Ambassador to China Gary Locke and hundreds of American and Chinese business leaders at the US Embassy, Brown announced the $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin deal between China-based Zarsion Holdings Group Co. Ltd. and California-based Signature Development Group.

Brown said the project, set to break ground next year, will create 10,000 jobs and provide for the construction of 3,100 units, 200,000 square feet of retail and commercial space and 30 acres of parks and open space in Oakland, his adopted hometown where he was mayor from 1998 to 2006.

"This massive influx of Chinese investment will put thousands of Californians to work and dramatically improve Oakland's waterfront," said Brown.

Brown also announced a new students abroad program to send California community college students to China to study the culture and the Mandarin language.

Brown had earlier announced agreements with the Chinese Minister of Commerce and six provincial governments establishing a formal working group to foster trade and investment.

And, taking note of China's rather dire environmental challenges -- many wear masks as they move about the streets of China's capital -- Brown also signed an agreement with China's Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian to strengthen and coordinate efforts to improve air quality.

Brown led a large delegation of California business people on a more than week-long trade and investment mission to China.

"Reducing pollution takes great political struggle," said Brown. "We know in America it's not easy, so it won't be easy in Beijing. But to the extent that we can help, we would like to help."

Brown then spoke on climate change at Tsinghua University, one of China's leading universities, before meeting privately with China's brand new Premier, Li Keqiang.

You can listen to Brown's 18-minute address at Tsinghua University by clicking on this audio link.

Brown began by citing The Analects of Confucius, which he is studying.

Brown quoted the venerable philosopher: "The master said, having studied, to then apply what you've learned, is this not a source of pleasure? Having friends come from distant places, is this not a source of enjoyment?"

The university, Brown declared to widespread applause, is the appropriate place for these things to happen, for the pursuit of knowledge is the highest of virtues.

Invoking the image of a needle as prod to discovery and change, Brown noted that the course of human history reached a critical inflection point in the 19th century.

Until the 1800s, as he recounted, humanity didn't rely on fossil fuels. There were only a billion people on Planet Earth. Then came discoveries and utilizations of coal, oil, natural gas. As with the application of a sharp needle, the prosperity of the world shot up.

But the wonders of a world made possible by the burning of carbon have been matched by its perils. Now the world has reached another inflection point.

"We're in one world. We've got one big problem and we all have to work on it. And what's beautiful and exciting about climate change is no one group can solve the problem--not the United States, not California, not Japan, not China -- we all have to do it," Brown declared.

"This is a great unifier. This is an imperative where human beings could collaborate."

Brown then closed as he began, with a brief passage from Confucius: "To go unacknowledged by others without harboring frustration. Is this not the mark of an exemplary person?"

The supportive laughter and applause began then.

"I've gone unacknowledged for some time, I'm not frustrated, and I'm sure glad to be here this morning."

After completing his schedule in Beijing, Brown and company hopped aboard the new high-speed rail for the 800-mile journey to Shanghai.

There Brown opened California's first overseas trade office in the past decade. The California-China Office of Trade and Investment is funded and staffed by the Bay Area Council business group, with major input from the Brown Administration.

Brown and the new California-China Office of Trade and Investment also announced four new Chinese investments in California, totaling approximately a quarter of a billion dollars.

These investments in pharmaceuticals, construction, waste containment, and marine resources will take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles area, Sacramento, and San Diego.

Brown and state tourism officials also announced the selection of actress Gao Yuanyuan as California's first tourism ambassador from China. She will appear in various advertisements and events to promote tourism in the Golden State.

Following that, Brown met privately with Shanghai's top official, Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Han Zheng, the former mayor. In China, the mayor answers to the party chief. Shanghai, China's largest city, is both a municipality and a province.

Han is a key member of what is called the "Shanghai clique" in Chinese politics -- leaders from the most dynamic part of China, associated with former President Jiang Zemin -- and a new member of the ruling party's national Politburo. New President Xi Jinping is a former Shanghai party chief.

Later on, Brown and company went for a river cruise with former NBA superstar Yao Ming, who is now in the wine business in California's Napa Valley.

The Browns then took another high-speed rail trip, from Shanghai to Nanjing, where they met with Jiangsu Communist Party Secretary Luo Zhijun, the top official in California's sister province. The governor then signed an agreement with Luo for California and Jiangsu to collaborate on climate change, technology, education and tourism.

Jiangsu province has a population of 79 million, twice that of California, and a GDP of $860 billion, a little over 40% that of the Golden State. Like California, it has extended coastlines.

After events in Nanjing, the Browns flew on to Guangzhou, formerly Canton, which is on the Pearl River about 75 miles from Hong Kong. Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province.

Its region, the Pearl River Delta, is arguably the key to China's economic success and is perhaps the largest region for manufacturing on the planet.

Brown then signed an agreement with Guangdong province, which has the largest population, some 105 million people, and economy of all of China's provinces.

What was the agreement? A pact to pursue mutual strategies on climate change, pushing renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement establishes a California/Guangdong working group to pursue these goals. If this sounds rather familiar, it is.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who led his own China trade mission in 2010, has long pursued these issues on a global basis at the "sub-national,", i.e., state, regional, provincial, and local levels of governance. He, too, went to China promoting these issues, and had Chinese officials take part in his Governors Global Climate Summits.

I was at all three of them. Chinese officials are not loathe to express agreement with general goals. That's not surprising, since China has jumped on the renewable energy industry worldwide in a big way. But the country's massive emission of greenhouse gases, much of it driven by coal-fired power, some of the dirtiest around, has continued unabated.

What is most likely in the short run to slow China's greenhouse gas emissions is an economic slowdown. Which we may see emerging. The price of oil isn't dropping simply because North Korea isn't firing any missiles.

On Tuesday, the Browns and company were in Shenzhen, another key part of Guangdong province and Pearl River Delta, to meet with top government officials and tour BYD worldwide headquarters. BYD is a major manufacturer of automobiles and rechargeable batteries, and will soon open a factory in Lancaster, 70 miles north of Los Angeles. In his remarks early in this trip, Brown challenged his Chinese hosts to solve the battery problem which still constrains alternative vehicle development.

Shenzhen, which is just north of Hong Kong, is a fascinating new city. Until just a few decades ago, it was only a small village.

Now it is a city of more than 10 million people, center of a special economic zone established in 1979 for its proximity to Hong Kong, China's historic interzone for exchange with the outside world. In 2011, it was the site of the biennial Universiade, better known in the US as the World University Games. Longtime readers of my New West Notes blog will recall the live link there in 2011 to the Shenzhen Universiade.

After having the provincial party chief call him a figure of "great enlightenment, not only like a statesman, but also like a university professor," the Browns then moved on briefly to Hong Kong before returning to California. It's safe to say that, after two years in which occasional trips to Nevada or Washington, DC constituted "foreign travel," they made up for lost time in one fell swoop.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...