Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a surprise meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Wednesday – a trip blasted online for its apparent focus on climate change and fentanyl, as relations between the United States and the powerful Asian nation have become tense of late.

“I’m here in expectation, as you suggest, of turning the page, of renewing our friendship and reengaging (on) foundational and fundamental issues that will determine our collective faith in the future,” Newsom said in brief opening remarks ahead of his meeting with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, earlier in the day, according to The Associated Press. 

Though Newsom, who again sparked speculation of a potential presidential run with his trip to Israel last week, was in China to promote cooperation in addressing climate change, Chinese officials took the opportunity in welcome speeches ahead of the closed-door meetings to talk about U.S.-China relations. Wang is preparing to visit the U.S. on Thursday. 

Newsom and Xi discussed ways to “accelerate our progress on climate in meaningful and substantive ways,” the California governor said at a news conference, but did not mention more specifics. Newsom said they also talked about fentanyl, a synthetic drug and leading killer of young people in the U.S., and China’s role in “combating” the transnational shipping of precursor chemicals. Yet, Republican members of Congress have charged Beijing is fueling the flow of the chemicals cartels have pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border. 


According to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Xi told Newsom, “I hope your visit will enhance mutual understanding between the two sides and play a positive role in expanding cooperation between China and California and promoting the healthy and stable development of Sino-U.S. relations.”

“Divorce is not an option,” the Office of the California Governor wrote on X, sharing photos of Newsom’s Beijing visit. “The only way we can solve the climate crisis is to continue our long-standing 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.”

“Despite major differences, we share our humanity – our desire to feel protected, connected and respected is universal – and that humanity is what should drive us to work together to stop the greatest existential threat our planet has ever known,” the post continued. “Governor @GavinNewsom made it clear to Chinese leaders that California will remain a stable, strong, and reliable partner, particularly on low-carbon, green growth.”

Newsom said he raised human rights issues with Wang, and the two also discussed Taiwan, a red-line issue for Beijing. China claims the self-ruled island as part of its own territory.

“I expressed my support for the One-China policy … as well as our desire not to see independence,” Newsom said, referring to the official U.S. policy that recognizes the Communist Party as the ruling government of China. Officially, the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan but is a big unofficial ally.

Critics quickly slammed Newsom’s trip online. 

“Gavin Newsom will travel to China to talk climate change with communists, but he won’t meet with California’s fossil fuel workers who have lost their jobs due to his policies,” Daniel Turner, founder of nonprofit Power The Future representing energy workers pushing back on “radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them,” wrote to his more than 82,000 X followers.


“Gavin Newsom flew to China on a plane powered by fossil fuels, then drove an electric vehicle powered by fossil fuels, all while fear-mongering about climate change,” Turner added. 

Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who served as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote, Governor Newsom ought to know that China isn’t a trusted partner and shouldn’t be an example for us to follow.” 

RNC Research wrote on X, “Newsom is currently meeting with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping. Biden has been saying for more than a year that he will meet with Xi ‘soon.’”

Xi may attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next month and meet with President Biden, although China has not formally confirmed his attendance, according to the AP. 

Wang, the head of the Communist Party’s office of foreign affairs, said he knows Newsom’s trip attracted plenty of critics but that he views the trip positively. “But I think time and facts will certainly prove that your visit to China is in line with California people’s wishes and in line with the American people’s interests and the expectations of the global society,” Wang said. 

Newsom also met Wednesday with Vice President Han Zheng, who greeted him with a wide smile and called him an “old friend.” Han is a past member of the Politburo Standing Committee, an elite group of leaders within the party.


“The China-U.S. relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and the sub-national cooperation is an indispensable part to facilitate the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations,” Han said. “I’m sure your weeklong trip will inject positive energy to the development of the China-U.S. relationship.”

The governor met as well with the head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a Cabinet-level agency responsible for economic policies. They signed a memorandum on deepening cooperation in environmental issues

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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