US-China summit: California welcomes rise of Asian giant

Oakland waterfront The run down Oakland waterfront has seen a $1.5bn investment from China

Five-year-old Eli is perhaps the face of America's future.

He looks a little nervous going in front of his 15 fellow pupils in his kindergarten class in a San Francisco school and reading out the children's duties for the day.

His nerves are understandable. He's speaking in a difficult, foreign language - Mandarin Chinese.

Behind him, an elegantly drawn poster of the sea, the sun, clouds and a ship, their names spelt out in Chinese characters.

This is Presidio Knolls School, where they practise what they call "total immersion" learning, speaking Chinese from day one.

Here, on the Pacific Ocean, where a third of the population are ethnic Chinese, President Barack Obama's pivot to Asia seems only natural.

Eli's mother, Mikhal Bouganim, says: "As an economic and cultural force in our world, it feels like an appropriate language to learn.

"And we have this little Jewish kid running around talking Chinese, and we thought it was important for him to realise not everyone looks like him or sounds like him."

Some of the children here are Chinese American but most are not.

The headmaster, Alfonso Orsini, says there has been a huge growth in Chinese-language schools.

"I think in 2007 there were some 30 programmes and that's grown to over 100 in the United States. There's a big fascination with China, that China is becoming a major force in the world."

Eli shyly tells me that he likes to use his language skills to order food in Chinese restaurants, and he would like to go to China to try it out there.

'Most potential'

He might be able to do a little more than that.

President Obama's pivot is in part because he believes this area of rapid economic growth can help revitalise the American economy, while Europe languishes in the doldrums.

Children at Presidio Knolls School Children with no Chinese background are doing "full immersion" Chinese language classes

In many parts of America, the rise of China is seen as a threat, stripping manufacturing jobs, competing unfairly, on the edge of overtaking the superpower that has become used to being the world's largest economy.

That's not so true in California. Here, China is an opportunity.

In the sunshine and serenity of Napa Valley, workers trim back the vine leaves to allow the sunlight to fall on the grapes - some will be turned into wines destined for the Chinese market.

America's economic recovery is fragile and even big spenders may be wary of spending $100 (£64) a bottle.

But Lorenzo Trefethen, who has made five trips to China to sell the family's products, says there are plenty of high-rolling Chinese who treasure fine wine as a trophy.

"China is our biggest export market at the moment," he says.

"It is something we have been building for five years and, off of a small base, it has grown rather quickly and is absolutely the one with the most potential."

The potential is a billion people that are coming out of low income and into the middle class.

'Intertwined economies'

"There is already a well-established upper class for a lot of the wines being produced in this valley, but we are very interested in the new middle class. They want to drink the same wines that their more wealthy compatriots have been drinking."

Oakland's rusty, run-down waterfront seems a long way from the green of the Napa Valley, but the story is similar.

At the moment there is a sprawling, ugly, abandoned area near the harbour.

A man picks grapes in Napa Valley Middle-class Chinese consumers want to enjoy California wine

Brown weeds cover the ground and a low, graffiti-covered wall runs around rusting industrial structures of indeterminate purpose.

For years there have been plans to turn this into homes, shops, a park. Plans, but no money. Now the Chinese are coming with $1.5bn worth of investment and 10,000 new jobs.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan tells me: "The irony is that American banks have been sitting on their capital and not investing, and it took the Chinese to break the ceiling and suddenly the banks are now interested.

"I think our economies are intertwined," he says. "We are going to grow and arise together, there's so much joint investment back and forth."

The emerging, developing relationship between China and America is a curious one. There is no doubt both countries are wary of each other, fear each other. There is good reason for that.

The White House is frank that there are risks of conflict and this summit is aimed at establishing personal relationships.

Cybersecurity will be one hot topic, with China openly accused of stealing military and business secrets.

'Actually accomplishing something'

President Obama's pivot to Asia is in part military - there is an increase of US forces in the Pacific.

The Chinese are hugely irritated by this at a time when they are building up their own navy, proclaiming sovereignty over disputed islands. The man in charge of the US fleet says he will not stand idly by.

Then there is North Korea and Taiwan. The Asia Society's Bruce Pickering told me there are plenty of flashpoints in the relationship.

"It's always going to have dangerous elements to it, but it doesn't have the ideological edge the Cold War had," he says.

"The ideological under-pinning, which created a real sense of menace, is just not there.

"The two countries have no real, natural reason to fear each other, but they have to sort out a relationship and we are only in the opening stages of that. "

At the kindergarten, the headmaster, Alfonso Orsini, urges fellow Americans not to worry about China.

"Face is very important in Chinese culture," he says. "Having dignity and a stance in the world. I see Chinese people are proud when they see those GDP figures, or successes of the economy.

"You kind of need the pride to keep going. I think that's what we have to understand, that the pride is not meant to put it in other people's faces, but to say, 'we are actually accomplishing something, recognise us.'"

In Napa Valley, Lorenzo Trefethen feels the worst sort of conflict can be avoided.

"I hope that the closer we knit our economies and the more trade links that we have the easier it will be to deal with those clashes and the less destructive that they will be.

"We've already had clashes - it's not something that is going to happen, it is something that has happened - and what we've seen is that by working together we are able to solve these problems as they arise."

That is the aim of this desert summit: to establish a personal relationship between the two most important leaders in the world, a hotline which may go a long way to head off the dangers ahead.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The choice of words "rusting industrial structures of indeterminate purpose" is revealing. Those structures have NO purpose today, but they certainly had a purpose when they were built. The failure of the author, and his immediate interlocutors, to recognize that purpose doesn't make it "indeterminate". Rust doesn't make the knowable unknowable. Mental laziness and anti-mechanicalness do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    US and Chinese assessment of the summit in glowing terms is almost surely empty rhetoric based on promises China will never keep.Wether disingenuous or China is ruled by others IMO it will continue to steal US intellectual property and military secrets through cyberwar.US implied threats to retaliate are more empty words as none has ever been kept by Obama.Iran, NKorea and now Syria, all bluster

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    In response to USAonHYS: the reason California is particularly impacted is that California is the primary port of entry for all Chinese imports to the US, as it is on the Pacific. Also California has the biggest &most long established Asian & Chinese community in America. In San Francisco for example, there are more Asians than Blacks & Latinos combined, which is Very unlike the rest of the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I'm confused: why particularly would California see China as an oppertunity while other states wouldn't? What product or service is made in California that isn't being made in China?

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The Chinese government hates it when anyone even mentions Tiananmen Square and the brutality it demonstrated in the way it killed its own people so we should mention it as frequently as possible so nobody forgets or is ignorant of it.

    90 Africa certainly was eager to sell itself out to Imperial China, now with regrets. Do unto Africa as Europe did unto you is their slogan..

  • Comment number 90.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    'levelling an idea killer'
    To China, with love?

    Democracy is a choice, taken in agreement

    Reality, like it or not, will select 'the good', but only in the long run

    Still with far to go, in terms of unnecessary suffering, but look how far we have come, from aeons of brute struggle, through millennia of primitive religion & philosophy, now dawn clearly visible

    Equal partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    So it is this all encompassing trivialization of things which are not state sanctioned.
    Such as copyright protection, environmental protection, human protection, etc.
    I just can't fathom why the US. military doesn't have a parallel internal internet, designed for exclusivity of American secret's.
    China has had a hand up from the west and repays us with criminality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Russia is certainly emitting a powerful, corrupt from the top down, thuggish flavour. It was already in place during the communist years and was unleashed after the fall of the empire.
    The Chinese elite overlook (trivialize) their own inherent corruption and run around, in the dark, trying to subdue the people who want what we have in the west.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    85The Chinese don't have communism they have fascism.There is no government medical care, no safety nets. If you're homeless your choice is to live and die on the street or in jail.

    Chinese govt owned businesses are a joke.The entire society is very inefficient relying on volume.Over 85% of profits belong to non Chinese.When conditions change Western companies will pull up stakes and move out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    81 Timmy

    I agree with what you say especially as regards religious intolerance in so many of our western countries

    However the Chinese were wise not to ditch 20th cent communism overnight. Just look what happened in Russia when the old order collapsed. It was a free for all for the most repacious fraudsters to snatch what they could before proper restrictions could be enforced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    There certainly are going to be a lot of surprised people when China implodes. That it will happen is beyond doubt. When and what will trigger it is the only open question.

    76"Seeing you borrowed our enlish language yourselves"

    We didn't borrow it, we perfected it. BTW, there's a letter "g" in English. At least there is in our version.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The US and Chinese economies are intertwined. It makes sense that the two biggest powers in the world should cooperate, especially when it is in their best interest.

    However, there are several issues that these comments have brought up that need to be resolved. I would hope everyone would find it encouraging that the US talks to China instead of bombing it.

    EU, don't get left out in the cold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Chinese look&come west, not just for food safety, but for freedom of thought. Our laws promote it. Think locally about what's in front of you, act locally, then share info globally. This tool shld be used for sharing info, not for making us think alike. AllforAll, your utopia/brand of equality, leveling really, is an idea killer. Creativity is in danger of extinction,& That would be the end of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    @75. margaret howard
    What i am saying is i have a lot of hope for the Chinese, they are not overburdened with religious hysteria and in many aspects tend to be much like ourselves in the west. I believe their government is more dysfunctional than our own, a result of the one party system. Their current outlook tends to trivialize the impact of such a large population on the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    76. margaret howard

    It would no doubt be the case that some wishing to contribute on this BBC forum will have their hearts in their mouth.With some,English will not be their first language.Cut them some slack,& for goodness sake just look at this post I`m getting as sanctimonious as you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Censorship in China must certainly distort or confuse the relationship between China and the rest of the developed world. It is difficult second guessing what the real Chinese think or indeed what they believe. I think we need to understand better (and I think they need to take more responsibility) for much of what had happened during that period. It is a period that continues to play havoc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    China`s communist party has taken to it own brand of capitalism.
    17th /19th century West,Mill,Mine,Engineer & land Barons,it was a rough ride to prosperity for ordinary workers.Then,like China`s state party now,they say/said, how its going to be.China`s new middle class,& will want every thing the West has including the freedom to vote out their Government.Like in the west there will be sparks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Check your packaged foods such as dried fruit with "Grown in California" and "Product of USA" all over it. The bottom of the package says Packaged in Peoples Republic of China. One answer is to buy fresh from the local farmer's market. It's a great way to tell those large companies to manufacture here so their taxes go towards our infrastructure. Also, Acting Locally is the future!


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