Dear President Xi Jinping,
This is a thank you note from California.
Thank you, first off, for sustaining our neighborhoods through these last difficult years. Thank you for keeping wealthy Chinese so nervous about your purges of political opponents—I’m sorry, I mean your anti-corruption campaigns—that they are buying up real estate all over California. More than half of all U.S. home purchases by Chinese buyers are in the Golden State, and two-thirds of your country’s millionaires have emigrated or plan to do so, according to a Chinese magazine In the San Gabriel Valley, where I live, Chinese arrivals have provided the housing market with much of its ballast and our communities with a disproportionate share of their new energy. (I’m told it’s possible that you yourself own real estate here, under some other name.)
But we have so much more to thank you for than housing.
Thank you for all you’ve done for California business. Thank you for all the Chinese vacationers and medical tourists who have patronized our hotels and our hospitals. Thank you for all the wealthy Chinese who shop here—and keep our high-end malls in business. Please give my thanks to your friends at Alibaba for keeping Yahoo afloat; until Yahoo spun off its $35 billion Alibaba stake into a separate business earlier this year, the Chinese ecommerce company accounted for about 85 percent of the struggling Sunnyvale company’s market value.
But that’s not all you’ve done for Silicon Valley. Thanks to Chinese hacking of American governments and companies (and our own intelligence agencies’ intrusions into our electronic lives), data security has been an enormous growth area for California’s tech companies. Silicon Valley also owes you a debt of thanks for your country’s lack of concern for the intellectual property of others; our technologists’ own thievery doesn’t look quite so bad in contrast.
I also want to let you know how much we appreciate all you’ve done to open the door to California business on your shores—letting Disney build its new resort in Shanghai, making it possible for Apple to sell so many iPhones there, and giving Transformers: Age of Extinction the opportunity to become China’s highest-grossing film of all time, with a cool $298.5 million in ticket sales.
This cultural exchange isn’t just one way. Thank you for letting so many of your best and brightest students come to our universities, where they pay full freight and help blunt the impact of our foolish disinvestment in higher education. More than 4,000 Chinese students are enrolled at USC—Jia-you! (Fight on!). And you’re welcome, President Xi, for us sending many of these students back to you after graduation, since we refuse to fix an immigration system that makes it so hard for them to stay and work here.
In all these ways, you keep putting money in our pockets, while the folks in Sacramento and Washington keep trying to take money out. So here’s a thank you with a question: Since you see the wisdom of investing in California, would you be willing to do even more?
For example, movies. I appreciate how much easier it is to see Hollywood movies in China now than it was when I lived there as a kid. My parents were two of the first U.S. correspondents allowed in after normalization, and my first and only Beijing movie experience was seeing the Chuck Norris trucker flick Breaker! Breaker! at the U.S. embassy. But you’re still capping the number of foreign films allowed to play in China. Your box office jumped 36 percent last year, to $4.8 billion, and you’re building more theaters and screens at a torrid pace. Hollywood studios are responding by putting more Chinese stars in their movies. How about you show some appreciation by letting even more of our films screen there?
There are other California ventures you could put money directly into that would benefit both your people and ours. Collaboration in governance between California and China already runs deep on climate change. The Asia Society recently issued a report about all the information and cooperation that our state government, universities, and philanthropists have given to governments and companies there. (Just one example: The Air Resources Board is working closely with Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau on the development of air quality regulations and monitoring systems.)
Of course, combating climate change will require a ton of investment in our already ragged infrastructure, and California’s state government and voters are allergic to big investments. So why don’t you pull us into your new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Britain, France, Germany, and Italy just joined?
Yes, our country’s leaders in Washington opposed the bank and would try to keep us out. But since Congress has shown so little interest in funding California’s current $800 billion in infrastructure needs, why shouldn’t we turn to your bank, which is supposed to invest in roads and rail and water and pipelines in China’s neighbors? You also could send us some skilled workers to help with construction (though maybe not the workers who built the Bay Bridge spans that developed cracks), since we’re not producing enough of our own. Your money and people might be what California needs to build its full high-speed rail system and a new drought-resistant water infrastructure.
Now I realize that, if you were step up your profile and investment in California, we might hear a bit of caterwauling about you being a dictator and all. Don’t worry about it—when Californians talk about democracy, you don’t have to take us seriously. We’ve all but given up voting. And what politics we do have are dominated by bureaucrats, a few politically connected billionaires and state-sanctioned interest groups—kind of like yours.
You have little to fear from our politicians. You’ve certainly noticed the never-ending trade missions our pols take to your country, and how our leaders scramble their schedules to accommodate any visiting Chinese dignitary. (Thank you, by the way, for providing a model of one-party governance; California’s Democrats are still getting the hang of the governance part.) Heck, despite the importance of expanded trade to the California economy, many liberals are opposing a new Trans-Pacific trade agreement that is designed as a check on your dominance of Asia. (You can thank them for essentially doing your dirty work in trying to scuttle it.)
To be sure, Mr. Xi, you’re not the kind of president we dream of. But you are the president who comes closest to addressing the needs of today’s California. And we sure need somebody.
Very truly yours,