SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In 1977, during a visit to Japan when he was governor before, Gov. Jerry Brown suggested a side trip to China and hastily made arrangements before abandoning the idea.
"I think it's too jet-setty," Brown told Orville Schell, who was traveling with the governor and included the exchange in the 1978 book "Brown." "I think such a fast trip to China would be too flaky, and I've got to watch that."
Thirty-six years later, Brown has found more time, and China is eager to accommodate him.
In his first official trip abroad since taking office in 2011, Brown leaves for China today to promote California exports, tourism and greenhouse gas reduction policies, and to open a foreign trade office in Shanghai. "I think we're going to get billions of dollars in investment coming from China," Brown said last week. "We're also going to facilitate billions of dollars in additional exports, not overnight, but over time."
Brown will be joined by a few advisers and about 75 business delegates. His schedule includes seven days of lunches, forums and signings of government-to-government agreements in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited China in 2010, but the state has not had an official presence there since California closed its 12 foreign trade offices in 2003.
At the time, the Legislative Analyst's Office and other critics questioned the effectiveness and cost of California's trade offices. The one outpost that remained open for several years on private donations, in tiny Armenia, was widely mocked.
The China office Brown will open in Shanghai will be financed by private donations, the Brown administration said. It will be operated by the Bay Area Council, a business group, but it will carry the state's imprimatur, representing a return for California to the state-managed promotion of foreign trade.
China is California's third-largest trading partner, behind Mexico and Canada. California's merchandise export trade with China amounted to about $14 billion last year, and China is an emerging — if relatively small — source of foreign direct investment in the United States.
According to an October report for the Asia Society by the research firm Rhodium Group, California attracted about $1.3 billion in investment deals from China from 2000 to 2011, with the largest investments in the software and information technology, leisure and entertainment, and communications industries.
The analysts said the state has the potential to attract $10 billion to $60 billion in direct investment from China by 2020.