BEIJING -- Gov. Jerry Brown went to the American Embassy on Wednesday to celebrate a new $1.5-billion investment from a Chinese developer in a massive new Oakland waterfront housing project.
The single deal amounts to roughly the total of all Chinese investment in California companies and projects from 2001 to 2011, according to a study commissioned by the Asia Society.
It also helps Brown illustrate to Californians why he is in China. Gubernatorial travels often have a subtext, and Brown’s trip is no exception. Gray Davis took his first trip as governor to Mexico to meet with President Ernesto Zedillo in 1999, an effort to repair relations after years of acrimony stoked by the hard line on illegal immigration taken by Davis’s predecessor, Gov. Pete Wilson.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who long worked to shed the baggage of his father’s Nazi past, took his first international trade mission to Israel. For Brown, this trip to China is about money. He makes clear at every stop that he is eager for Chinese companies to invest in California.
Acknowledging tensions between Washington and Beijing this week, he said: "We're from California. We're not interested in politics. We're interested in business."
While his aides say a series of non-binding agreements signed Wednesday with Chinese officials will help lay the groundwork for future deals, the governor also understands the importance of returning home with concrete accomplishments to boast of.
Michael Ghielmetti, president of the Oakland-based developer partnering in the project, says his company negotiated this deal without the help of the governor's office. But he says the timing of the governor's visit helped motivate his Chinese partners to sign the paperwork. "It meant a lot to our investor to have some sort of celebratory affair," he said.
Ghielmetti did say Brown played a key role in getting the project approved while he was mayor of Oakland. For Brown, such announcements give him an opportunity to cut through the ritual and ceremony of the trip. "This project is just one example of what's possible when business leaders in two of the world's most dynamic regions connect."