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China Is Sold on Schwarzenegger

The governor's six-day trade mission underscores his popularity in the vast nation but results in no major contracts for California companies.

November 19, 2005|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

HONG KONG — Even in China, where local Communist Party officials asked for his autograph, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could not escape being master of a traveling celebrity opera in which politics frequently gave way to simply being famous.

Schwarzenegger ended his six-day trade mission to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong King on Saturday without any substantial business agreements for California firms.

A Riverside County pump company could soon have an announcement on expanding its China business. And there may be news from Aeros, a Tarzana blimp maker already established here. That company wants to sell more dirigibles to the authoritarian Chinese government for police surveillance, among other uses.

But the governor's trade mission to China mostly drew crowds of jostling paparazzi, government officials and business executives there to see the Terminator.

Today, on the streets of Hong Kong, the trip closed as it began six days ago: with a barely controlled mob scene as he toured two markets. "You have never seen so many cameras," Schwarzenegger said to a stunned-looking store manager as the crowd clamored for his photograph or just a glimpse.

Combating the bootlegging of movies, medicine and other American products meant standing in front of a 20-foot-high photograph of himself in leather pants and a black T-shirt. It was the official unveiling of a new Hong Kong public service television advertisement with action star Jackie Chan.

"You and I are on a mission to stop piracy.... Let's terminate it," Schwarzenegger says to Chan in the ad as they ride motorcycles along a California street, swerving to avoid exploding, toppling cars.

Schwarzenegger later announced that the ad -- directed by Jonathan Mostow, who also did "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" -- would be viewed by 1 billion people. In fact, aides explained, that was wishful thinking: The Chinese government has yet to approve its showing outside of Hong Kong, Macao and a few satellite services.

The night before, on the second anniversary of his inauguration, an elaborate reception at the Shanghai Art Museum featured a slick video of Schwarzenegger "selling California." It started with a clip from NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on which he announced his decision to run for governor.

Outside, paparazzi and Chinese television reporters lined up along a red carpet for the premier of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the first showing in China before it inevitably winds up as a pirated DVD. Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were the only people to walk the carpet.

The governor is well aware that his celebrity status can become the dominant paradigm in any situation. He's counting on it. He sees his notoriety as his most potent asset in bringing people together, closing deals and energizing politics.

"In my case, the show comes automatically," Schwarzenegger said in an interview here. "That gives me much more power of influence to get results."

But behind the scenes throughout the trip to China, Schwarzenegger's aides have scrambled to find deals for California companies to announce.

Schwarzenegger himself declared before returning home that the trip "was about substance," but his aides said only that ground had been broken on a few small deals.

Mark Mosher, executive director of the California Commission for Jobs and the Economy, which organized the trip, said a photo op between the governor and executives from two Shanghai companies led to possible agreements to build small manufacturing facilities at Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles.

Tejon Ranch is a "free trade zone" that allows foreign companies to get a foothold in the U.S. and receive tariff reductions on exports in exchange. Mosher said the deals could lead to 500 light manufacturing jobs in California.

"We're hoping we push them over the top," Mosher said.

Not that the 80 or so business executives on the Schwarzenegger trip were disappointed about the lack of flashy deals. Most said they had realistic goals about how much they could increase the estimated $7 billion in goods that already flow from California to China every year.

Robert P. Koch, the brother-in-law of President Bush and chief executive of the Wine Institute of California, said he got a "much better understanding of the potential market for us" while traveling with the governor. Looking relaxed and prosperous, Koch sipped wine as he made his way around the Shanghai art gallery reception.

"This is going to take time," said Koch, who is married to the president's sister, Dorothy Bush Koch. "Interestingly, a healthy percentage of the Chinese people don't even know California makes wine. It's a long-term process as it relates to China."

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