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Schwarzenegger political leaves woes behind

After the defeat of his reform package in a recent special election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trip to China offers him the chance to represent California in a country where his political woes are overshadowed by his celebrity.
/ Source: The Associated Press

After the bruising defeat of his reform package in last week’s special election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trade mission to China offers him the chance to represent California in a country where his political woes are overshadowed by his celebrity.

Schwarzenegger arrives here Monday for a six-day visit that will also take him to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Accompanying him are his wife, first lady Maria Shriver, several Cabinet secretaries and a delegation of 80 business leaders.

“Folks coming along recognize they want the exposure a celebrity like the governor can bring,” said Jeff Williamson, director of the state’s Center for International Trade Development. “Coming to China, meeting with people, the governor’s persona will attract people. And that’s very useful to these companies.”

The group, which is eager to promote California industries and products in the rapidly growing Chinese market, includes representatives of Pfizer Inc., Universal Studios and Qualcomm Inc.

Since becoming governor in 2003, Schwarzenegger has made official visits to Israel, Japan, Germany and Mexico. But China’s size — 1.3 billion people and growing — authoritarian government and rapidly emerging economic clout offers a particularly vexing challenge in the global marketplace. Just last year, China sold $162 billion more goods to the United States than the U.S. sold to China, and the gap is widening.

Topping Schwarzenegger’s agenda will be addressing the rampant theft of intellectual property in China, from software and other forms of technology to wine, clothing and pharmaceuticals. Piracy has robbed millions of dollars from the California economy. At least 90 percent of software programs and movie DVDs sold in China are pirated, according to some industry estimates.

The governor’s packed schedule is expected to take him from a trade promotion event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to a tour of the Port of Shanghai to a celebration of “California Grown” food products at Victoria Park in Hong Kong.

Along the way, Schwarzenegger plans to hold business roundtables on issues ranging from energy and sustainable development to agriculture and ports.

Major gateway
California is the major gateway for U.S. trade to China, with cotton and computer-related products leading the way. The state exported $6.8 billion in goods to China in 2004, double what it exported in 2000, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re at a tipping point with China, and we have a lot to learn about what the Chinese are doing,” said Chris Nance, a spokesman for state Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Sunne McPeak.

Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood legacy and connections also will be on display.

The governor plans to attend the premiere of the latest Harry Potter movie in Shanghai and unveil public service announcements — starring himself and another action figure, Jackie Chan — that target intellectual property theft while in Hong Kong.

Despite Schwarzenegger’s drubbing in California’s special election, when his entire “year of reform” agenda was rejected by voters, he remains a popular figure in China. Millions of his action films are available for purchase in China — mostly on pirated DVDs.

And despite his sinking approval ratings at home, California businesses still consider his visibility a public relations boon on the world stage, said Williamson

The trip also bears the stamp of first lady Maria Shriver and her famous Kennedy family connections. Schwarzenegger’s first event Monday is a promotion of the Special Olympics, a major athletic competition for people with disabilities founded by Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and now headed by the first lady’s brother, Tim.

President Bush also visits China this week as part of a multination Asia trip.