California Governor Gavin Newsom is on a China visit this week.
The climate-themed trip started on Monday in Hong Kong, where the Democrat told the audience at the University of Hong Kong that although the United States is not reliable, they can rely on his state.
“I want you to know, regardless of what happens nationally, sub-nationally, you have a partner in the state of California,” he was quoted by an Associated Press news piece.
What happens nationally or sub-nationally in the United States seem to have not interested Chinese netizens. On China’s social media, it was a short video indicating Governor Newsom and his wife sitting inside a latest model of BYD electrical car in Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong Province and experiencing an auto tank-turn that caused quite a stir.
The short video, put up on Weibo, the Chinese version of X, formerly known as Twitter, showed that after the auto tank-turn test drive, Governor Newsom joked that he wants to buy two such cars himself. He also stated that he was impressed by such a leap of technology which he had not seen for a long time.
One Chinese netizen commented under the short video: “Approved, (not two), you can buy 20,000!” Another added: “Since California is a wealthy state, you should buy two million!” A Weibo user based in Australia and used the handle of “iris_clochette” pointed out: close to my home the Porsche and Bentley distribution center has been changed into a BYD one.
The light-hearted exchange on the Chinese social media platform seems to play a different tone to the state of China-U.S. relations which have witnessed a sharp deterioration in recent years due to trade disputes, the Taiwan question and other contentious issues. Factually speaking, Governor Newsom is the first US state governor to visit China in four years.
But quickly the reality kicks in.
In Governor Newsom’s home state, opposition voices has roared. Republican Representative Michelle Steel said Governor Newsom’s effort “to cozy up to the Chinese Communist Party is delusional”.
Her referring words of “Communist China” remind me of another US state Governor—Jim Pillen of Nebraska. His family runs a large farm business in Nebraska. On September 7, a local media outlet published an investigative report detailing high nitrate levels, at least five times higher than what the federal government considers safe to drink, at 16 of his hog farms.
Several days later, when Governor Pillen, while doing an interview with Omaha radio station KFAB, was asked about the investigative piece. His remarks were quite blunt: “Number 1, I didn’t read it. And I won’t. Number 2, all you got to do is look at the author. The author is from communist China. What more do you need to know?”
No reading of the article. No responding to the detailed facts listed in the article. Even no attempt of trying to defend himself. In Governor Pillen’s world, as the author is from China, the article is not worth mentioning. As you can imagine, the Governor words, potentially weaving “a narrative of people from China is not worth trusting”, caused backlash. The media outlet where the Chinese journalist works, some American journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus all speak out against Governor Pillen. “Bias” “Baseless” “Xenophobic act” are just a few words used to refute Governor Pillen.
In reality, Governor Pillen’s “Communist China” comment represents the thinking of some if not the majority of Americans. The only difference is his words have a specific target—a well-written investigative report, while some Americans would use the same words in a general way, as a label, with no concrete events in context.
The two governors with their respective dealings concerning China could not tell more about the reality of China-US relations. One sees in China a partner who could join hands in the fight against climate change. The other sees in China an “alien” that should not be considered seriously. And if possible, it should be dismissed categorically.
The tale of two governors would definitely be the focus of an American internal debate as far as China is concerned. As their individual party affiliation, one Democrat and the other Republican, it might add spice to the already ‘hot war” between the two parties, serving the interests of both parties.
I have no intention of involving myself in such a warlike rhetoric. But it is worth noting, when Governor Newsom takes his China-engaging trip following other Democrats, four Biden cabinet officials and a congressional delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, some Republicans lawmakers see it as a potential national security threat. American news website “Politico” in a report quoted Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as saying that the California Governor’s China trip “is not on addressing climate issues, but instead giving China “more control over our energy future”.
Will the two tales of governors concerning China-US relations ever come into reconciliation in America? I don’t know.
But here in China, people may have reasons to be optimistic. Lots of Chinese know California well, even its calling itself the world’s fifth largest economy. Fewer Chinese could speak out something about Nebraska, not even knowing where it is in the expansive American territory. Maybe as more Chinese know Nebraska with the increasing exchanges between the American State and the Middle Kingdom, the tale the Nebraska Governor represents would be tone tuned.
Now the question is about when that will happen.
The first Western band giving live performances in China was Wham!, the British pop band. That was in the year of 1985. And one of their hit songs in China is titled “Wake me Up Before You Go Go”. 20 years later, an American rock song titled “Wake me up when September Ends” became an instant hit. When Chinese music fans try to translate the song lyrics into Chinese, some translate the song title in a humorous way. When read in Chinese, the translated title by these fans literally means “A Sound Sleep Through to the National Day”: October 1st is China’s National Day; “When September Ends” of course means October 1st, which is the National Day for Chinese people.
That Chinese interpretation of an American rock song gives me a sense of hope. No matter how different the perceptions are, there will still be a way for the two peoples to find a connection.
What we really need is a wake-up call.