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UC's Role in California's Developing Foreign Policy

April 25, 1999|Mike Clough | Mike Clough is a research associate at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY — California may soon have its own independent foreign policy and the means to carry it out.

Since taking office, Gov. Gray Davis has launched a major initiative to develop closer relations with Mexico. In addition, planning is underway at the state Trade and Commerce Agency and the University of California to boost the state's profile in London and, more tentatively, in Hong Kong. Collectively, these efforts represent the beginnings of a foreign-policy revolution that is almost certain to spread to other parts of the country.

It's not new for states to open offices abroad to promote trade and investment at home. Virginia opened the first such office in Brussels 30 years ago. By the mid-1990s, 39 states had opened more than 150 offices overseas. Today, California has outlets in Britain, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Israel, South Africa and Taiwan; there are tentative plans to open offices in Brazil, Canada, China and the Philippines. But Davis' new partnership with Mexico, and the much less publicized establishment of California House in London, represent a new vision of the state's role in international affairs, one that envisions trade as part of a much broader set of society-to-society relationships and exchanges.

During last year's gubernatorial campaign, Davis pledged to repair the damage done to relations between California and Mexico caused by Proposition 187 and Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant rhetoric. Although trade between California and Mexico increased substantially during the Wilson years, largely as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Proposition 187 turned many Mexicans against California. Tijuana, for example, declared Wilson persona non grata. Less publicized but more consequential was a large decline in the number of Mexican graduate students choosing to study in California.

Besides undoing political damage, Davis has other reasons to make rapprochement with Mexico a priority. By 1998, Mexico had passed Canada to become second only to Japan as a market for California exports. Many trade experts believe the state can capture even more of the Mexican market if political relations improve.

Davis' overture to Mexico began in early February, when he spent three days visiting the country. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo will tour California next month and is expected to address a joint session of the state Legislature.

One of the most significant elements of this developing relationship is the role planned for UC. The university already has a large number of cooperative programs with Mexico. For example, since 1984, UC's Institute for Mexico and the United States, or MEXUS, a systemwide institute headquartered at UC Riverside, has promoted collaborative binational research ventures, bringing together faculty from the nine UC campuses and their counterparts in Mexico, to work on a wide range of issues of common concern to California and Mexico. In addition, UC is broadening an agreement with UNAM, the oldest, largest and most important university in Mexico, to encourage research, instruction and exchanges in air and water quality, resource conservation, trade, migration, drylands agriculture and human development.

During the Wilson administration, these joint ventures received relatively little attention. Since Davis visited Mexico, he has taken a personal interest in promoting and substantially expanding them. More generally, he wants to capitalize on UC's expertise, connections and resources to add intellectual heft to California-Mexico relations.

Before Davis was elected, the California Trade and Commerce Agency had developed plans to work with UC's exchange program to open a University of California "hub" in London. Traditionally, the overseas offices of the Education Abroad Program primarily supervise students. In the mid-1990s, however, UC President Richard C. Atkinson encouraged the program to expand its mission.

The UC hub in London will be responsible for a wide range of activities, including: facilitating instruction by satellite or Internet, special seminars, courses and research; raising money to allow UC campuses to undertake joint projects with overseas partners; providing a meeting place for UC alumni, faculty and businesses and nonprofit organizations desiring to establish a California connection; and hosting student interns. The hub will share space with the state Trade and Commerce Agency in California House, which Davis will formally open in October. Plans are already in the works to establish similar hubs in Mexico City and Hong Kong.

The UC partnership is crucial to Sacramento's goal of increasing the effectiveness of its existing overseas offices and developing a more visible foreign policy, for four reasons.

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