A shopping trip that could rebuild bridges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 September, 2010, 12:00am

When a global star like Arnold Schwarzenegger steps foot in China, it's easy to be distracted by the very fact that the 'Terminator' has arrived, and gloss over the purpose of his visit. But beneath the celebrity-themed parades to greet hundreds of adoring fans, lay a significant trade and diplomatic event. This was the governor of California, the most populous and diverse state in the United States with an economy greater than many European countries, shopping in China for further investment projects.

Only three years ago, American consumers were threatening to boycott Chinese products. The unfortunate timing of an economic downturn, a series of product scandals, and an election period, led to mass hysteria over the 'Made in China' brand. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she was still harbouring hopes of running as the Democratic candidate in the presidential election, felt compelled to ride the wave of sino-phobia and pledge to 'get tougher on China'. But three years later, one of America's most prominent representatives was in China openly expressing his awe at their products, and their contribution to improving American lives.

His inspection of Chinese high-speed trains led to an open invitation to bid for California's own plans to develop a high-speed railway network. He then praised Alibaba's entrepreneurial spirit and contribution to creating jobs in California. The next day he visited workers constructing a segment of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, gave his humble thanks for their toil, and hoped they too would have the chance to go and benefit from their current work. Three years since the sight of a Chinese-made plastic toy made Americans fear for their lives, Arnie may well be the catalyst for Americans sitting on a Chinese train at 350km/h.

In selling Californian tourism to the new Chinese middle class, Arnie hoped they would say to themselves: 'I'll be back'. But if his charm is going to renew global confidence in Chinese products, Chinese companies will be the ones hoping Arnie will resume his film-star role, and promise his return.


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