A scene from “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” It sold $298.5 billion in tickets in China, the nation’s top-grossing film.
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 — oops, your anti-corruption campaigns — that they are buying real estate all over California. More than half of all U.S. home purchases by Chinese buyers are in the Golden State. 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.
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 recently, the Chinese e-commerce company accounted for 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.
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, because 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?
California governments and companies have assisted their Chinese counterparts on environmental issues (the Air Resources Board helped develop air pollution standards in Beijing, according to the Asia Society), so why not throw some of your foreign reserves into costly climate change-fighting projects here? California has an estimated $800 billion in unmet infrastructure needs, but our politicians are allergic to the kind of big investments you’ve been making for years. 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 because Congress has shown so little interest in funding California’s high-speed rail, new roads, and drought-resistant waterworks, why shouldn’t we turn to your bank, which is supposed to invest in China’s neighbors?
Now I realize that, if you were to step up investment in California, we might hear 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 is dominated by bureaucrats, politically connected billionaires, and state-sanctioned interest groups — kind of like yours.
You have little to fear from our politicians. You’ve certainly noticed how our elected leaders love to take trade missions to your country, and accommodate visiting Chinese dignitaries here. 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 doing your dirty work by 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.
Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at www.sfgate.com/submissions.