by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
California governor Gavin Newsom made headlines when, after returning from climate change talks in China, he rushed a cleanup of San Francisco in advance of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s stateside visit. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg on the emerging climate partnership between Sacramento and Beijing.
The hub of that relationship is the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 2019 by former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D.), the California-China Climate Institute partners with several Chinese Communist Party front groups to foster climate collaboration between California and China. Brown leads the group, which helped organize Newsom’s October junket, alongside Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change affairs. Newsom formalized the institute’s status as a state-sponsored group in 2021 when he signed a law requiring it to work with Chinese institutions to train California government leaders on climate issues.
The California-China Climate Institute’s partners include Tsinghua University, which the Australian Strategic Policy Institute deemed a “very high risk” institution for its alleged role in supporting cyberattacks, including a 2018 attempt to hack American energy companies and the government of Alaska.
The institute also collaborates with the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a group Beijing uses to “malignly influence state and local leaders” to advance China’s “global agenda,” the State Department warned in 2020. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also issued reports in February 2023 and July 2022 saying that China is focusing its influence operations at the state and local level because Beijing believes local officials “are more pliable than their federal counterparts.”
California has proved a breeding ground for sympathetic progressive politicians willing to cozy up to China. The Chinese People’s Association, which worked with the California-China Climate Institute to organize Newsom’s trip, praised California for facilitating “close personnel exchanges and fruitful cooperation” with China and serving at the “forefront” of U.S.-China relations.