Senior Chinese officials greeted California Gov. Gavin Newsom with smiles and warm words on Wednesday in a display of friendliness that stands in sharp contrast to the dialogue between the United States and China in recent years.
The governor is on a weeklong tour of China where he will push for climate cooperation. Newsom’s trip as governor, once considered routine, is drawing attention as it comes after years of heightening tensions between the U.S. and China.
“I’m here in expectation, as you suggest, of turning the page, of renewing our friendship and reengaging (on) foundational and fundamental issues that will determine our collective faith in the future,” Newsom said in brief opening remarks ahead of his meeting with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat.
Though Newsom is here to push a climate cooperation agenda, Chinese officials took the opportunity in welcome speeches ahead of the closed-door meetings to talk about U.S.-China relations, as Wang prepares to visit the U.S. on Thursday.
The country’s Foreign Ministry also released a statement on Wednesday attributed to President Xi Jinping, saying that “China is willing to work with the U.S. side to advance mutually beneficial cooperation, properly manage differences, and make joint efforts to meet global challenges, contribute to each other’s progress and push for common prosperity so as to deliver benefits to both countries and the whole world.”
The message was addressed to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, not specifically the governor’s trip.
Newsom is visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu. At a speech at Hong Kong University on Monday, he promised to continue to cooperate on climate change regardless of the outcome of the next U.S. presidential election.
Wang also struck an optimistic tone, saying: “As Chairman Xi has said the foundation of China and U.S. relations are among the people, I think your visit to China this time lays a solid foundation, spreads hope, and opens up the future.”
Wang, head of the Communist party’s office of foreign affairs, also said he knows Newsom’s trip attracted plenty of critics, but that he views the trip positively.
“But I think time and facts will certainly prove that your visit to China is in line with California people’s wishes and in line with the American people’s interests and the expectations of the global society.”
Later in the day Wednesday, Newsom met with vice president Han Zheng, who greeted him with a wide smile and called him an “old friend.” Han is a past member of the Politburo Standing Committee, an elite group of leaders within the party and now serves as vice president of the country.
“The China-U.S. relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and the sub-national cooperation is an indispensable part to facilitate the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations,” Han said. “I’m sure your week-long trip will inject positive energy to the development of the China-U.S. relationship.”
Newsom also met with the head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a Cabinet-level agency responsible for economic policies.
Governors of California, which has an economy larger than most countries, have a long history of climate collaboration with China. Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger also traveled to China to swap knowledge on reducing air pollution and emissions, and since leaving office, Brown has launched the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.