Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, met with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Wednesday, as part of an ambitious weeklong mission to negotiate climate partnerships.
The two-term Democratic governor wants California to set an aggressive pace for the United States — and the world — to cut carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet. Mr. Newsom’s moves to tackle the climate crisis have elevated his national profile, just as he is widely believed to be preparing for a White House run in 2028.
On the diplomatic front, Mr. Newsom’s visit is the latest in a flurry of exchanges between Chinese and American officials and businesspeople that have raised expectations that Mr. Xi might travel to the United States next month. Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, also met in Beijing with Mr. Xi, who struck an amicable tone, saying that there were “a thousand reasons” the two countries should make their relationship work.
Mr. Xi met with Mr. Newsom in the Great Hall of the People, a grand building on the west side of Tiananmen Square where the Chinese leader often receives dignitaries. In an official summary of the meeting published by Chinese state media, Mr. Xi was quoted as saying he hoped Mr. Newsom’s visit would help promote ties between their countries.
Mr. Xi also “happily recalled his visit to California,” according to the official summary, possibly referring to a summit with President Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in 2013.
In a statement after the meeting, Mr. Newsom said that he had “made it clear to Chinese leaders that California will remain a stable, strong and reliable partner, particularly on low-carbon green growth.”
“Divorce is not an option,” the governor 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.”
China has not said whether Mr. Xi will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit, in San Francisco next month, or meet with President Biden. But the potential visit is expected to be high on the agenda of Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, during Mr. Wang’s talks in the United States later this week.
In a conversation with Mr. Wang on Wednesday, Mr. Newsom invoked San Francisco and Shanghai’s decades-long relationship as “sister cities,” adding that he hoped to deepen connections between California and China. “I’m here in expectation, as you suggest, of turning the page, of renewing our friendship and re-engaging on foundational and fundamental issues that will determine our collective faith in the future,” he said.
Mr. Newsom stressed in his meetings that China and California needed to work together to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and address the climate crisis, according to a summary provided by his office.
The governor raised issues beyond climate, his office said. He pressed Chinese leaders to stop the flow of chemicals that are used to make the fentanyl that is sold on the street in California, where fatal overdoses of the drug have soared in recent years. He spoke with Chinese officials about ways to increase the number of Chinese visitors to California, the summary added; the number of direct flights between the state and China is now about 15 percent of the number that were operating before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
He also discussed the Chinese imprisonment of a California pastor, David Lin, and “a variety of human rights issues including Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan,” the summary said.
Mr. Newsom raised the human rights issues in a separate meeting with Chinese leaders before he sat down with Mr. Xi, according to the governor’s office.
Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to China, joined in the day’s meetings, and said it was “a very positive and consequential day for the United States.”
But critics of Mr. Newsom questioned the meeting with Mr. Xi, saying it had little use other than to burnish the governor’s own reputation.
“It’s the make-believe president tour,” said James Gallagher, the leader of the Republican caucus in the California Assembly, noting that the conversation between the governor and the president had reportedly steered clear of sensitive civil rights topics. “He wants to act like a world leader, but when he has the opportunity, I don’t see him making any strong stands on issues of international significance.”
Chinese state media outlets have hailed Mr. Newsom’s visit for its potential to improve ties, which have been challenged by escalating disputes over trade, technology and China’s increasingly assertive claims over Taiwan, the island democracy.
The Global Times, a nationalist Communist Party newspaper, wrote in an opinion piece that among American officials who have visited China, Mr. Newsom has received “at least one of the highest levels of attention.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Newsom toured a zero-emission electric bus fleet in Shenzhen, home to leading electric vehicle companies and car battery makers in the country. He has signed a climate partnership with Guangdong Province, setting targets on reducing carbon reliance and achieving higher rates of renewable energy use. Mr. Newsom plans to sign similar agreements with four other Chinese provinces during this visit.
Back home, Mr. Newsom has signed a raft of laws and regulations to accelerate America’s most populous state away from fossil fuels, including a ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and a mandate to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045. He wants to end oil drilling in his state, a major oil producer, also by 2045.
Claire Fu contributed research.