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November 2, 2023

Newsom Goes to China

The California governor is burnishing his foreign policy résumé with eyes to the future.

California Governor Gavin Newsom traveled to China last week, and his office said the trip was about “delivering real climate action and creating opportunities for future collaboration and cooperation.” In reality, it was an effort to burnish his foreign policy résumé for a possible run at the White House.

As California Republican caucus leader James Gallagher quipped, “It’s the make-believe president tour.”

Demonstrating this point with classic political spin, Newsom said: “The only way we can solve our climate crisis is to continue our longstanding cooperation with China. As two of the world’s largest economies, the work we do together is felt in countless communities on both sides of the Pacific.”

Yet besides playing in a pickup basketball game with a bunch of children — including slipping and plowing over one of them — Newsom’s visit was uneventful.

As always, he talked a safe game, though he hit fraught topics such as trafficking fentanyl from China to the U.S., human rights concerns — including the imprisonment of California pastor David Lin — and Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan. Significantly, however, Newsom raised none of these concerns directly with Chinese strongman Xi Jinping.

“He wants to act like a world leader,” Gallagher criticized, “but when he has the opportunity, I don’t see him making any strong stands on issues of international significance.”

The real agenda for Newsom’s trip was evident, and it’s not climate change. After all, Beijing couldn’t give two hoots about combatting climate change. Indeed, it is widely known that China is by far the world’s leading producer of carbon emissions, and that’s not about to change anytime soon. Xi has made it clear that China’s priority is its economic development, not the cultish concerns of wealthy Western leftists.

The one real factor that directly affects Newsom in California is trade, though not so much with China as with Taiwan. Silicon Valley is dependent upon the computer chips industry, and the lion’s share of those chips are manufactured in Taiwan. It’s imperative that trade flow is maintained, though it’s under threat thanks to Xi’s stated desire to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control.

For Xi, meeting with Newsom was an opportunity for him to personally size up the Californian. Xi knows full well that Joe Biden is not only old but increasingly unpopular. He sees that another head-to-head matchup between Donald Trump and Biden could well swing Trump’s way. Newsom is a much younger and slicker politician who could step in for Biden or after Trump, and Xi knows it.

Dean Phillips’s challenge to Biden might provide the perfect opportunity for Newsom to take up the Democrat banner should Biden finally be convinced to step aside. Phillips is paving the way for a mainstream candidate with his bid, while Newsom can then play up his loyalty to Biden by refusing to challenge him, only stepping into the race in an effort to help continue what Biden has started should the old man step stumble aside.

This strategy also explains Newsom’s agreement to debate Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on November 30. Newsom will be seen as acting presidential by taking on the opposition.

Finally, Newsom is effectively in a win-win position. If Biden does decide to stick it out and continues a likely ill-fated run at reelection, Newsom can hit pause on his presidential aspirations and wait it out another four years. Maybe even with another trip to China just for good measure.

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