Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s (D-CA) weeklong trip to China, including a brief stop in Israel, may be further brandishing his international expertise should he choose to seek higher office further down the line.
Amid his tour, Newsom focused on promoting climate cooperation and held a surprise meeting on Wednesday with President Xi Jinping in Beijing at a moment of increased tension between the U.S. and China, two of the world’s superpowers. But Newsom, the first U.S. governor to visit China in more than four years, insisted that the nations can cooperate on some form of climate partnership despite ongoing global crises.
“Divorce is not an option. The only way we can solve the climate crisis is to continue our long-standing cooperation with China,” Newsom said in a statement after his meeting with Xi. “As two of the world’s largest economies, the work we do together is felt in countless communities on both sides of the Pacific.”
Newsom’s trip comes ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next month, in which Xi could make an appearance further de-escalating apprehension between Xi and President Joe Biden. A Xi attendance would also bolster Newsom’s foreign policy stance should he decide to run for president in 2028.
“Clearly, Newsom has emerged as a key surrogate for Biden and that’s no accident,” Kimberly Scott, a Democratic strategist and publisher of the DemList, a national daily political column, told the Washington Examiner. “He is, I think, other than being a very effective one, he is trying to build this international profile and resume in anticipation of a run in 2028.”
Before his trip, Newsom had become a key surrogate for Biden’s reelection campaign, often attacking top Republicans including former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and even appearing at the second Republican debate last month.
As his national profile has risen, the trip to China and the stop in Israel point to Newsom positioning himself on a global scale. Israel has become engulfed in war with the terrorist group Hamas since a surprise attack on Oct. 7 that led to more than 1,400 killed in Israel. The Middle East crises also come amid the still continuing battle between Ukraine and Russia, which will hit its two-year anniversary in February.
“As I reflect back on the extraordinary people I just met today in Israel, I am reminded of the deep connections between my home state and this country. A country that has faced many dark times before, and certainly is in one now,” Newsom said after his Israel visit.
“Despite the horror, what I saw and heard from the people of Israel was a profound sense of resilience,” Newsom added. “A commitment to community and common purpose, especially in these most difficult of times. That’s the Israeli spirit. And it’s also the California spirit. We are bound by more than those who live one place or another, or who have family here or there. My heart is heavy for all innocent people under the crushing pressure of loss and grief, no matter which side of fence they quite literally find themselves on.”
Scott claimed that it was only “natural” for Newsom to visit Israel given the crisis it faces. “But it’s another platform for him to boost his international credentials,” she added.
Boston University political history professor Thomas Whalen compared Newsom’s trip to former President George W. Bush’s own overseas visits as governor of Texas in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
“He’s building a foreign policy resume not unlike what George W. Bush was doing at the beginning of the 21st century,” Whalen said. “He’s doing all these kinds of junkets abroad to kind of build that profile that he’s not an ignoramus when it comes to international affairs, and it’s smart political strategy on Newsom’s part.”
The trip, Whalen said, elevates the governor’s political status. “So he’s automatically considered one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, and that will come in handy if he’s running against a Kamala Harris,” he said.
As Biden’s running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris should be the presumptive heir to a post-Biden presidency, but Harris has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans that she may be unprepared to lead and also faces high disapproval numbers. A Monmouth University poll last month showed Harris at a 36% approval rating and a 56% disapproval rating, while Biden’s approval rating was at 38% with a 55% disapproval rating.
Newsom has denied tensions with Harris, herself a California Democrat, and went so far as to suggest the two would not run against each other for president in the future.
Whalen, though, remains unconvinced. “If they’re going for the same job, let me tell you, they’re going to hate each other anyway,” he said. “John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were really good friends. In fact, he invited Richard Nixon to his wedding in 1953. But after ’56, they saw that they were going for the same prize [and] that friendship soured awfully quickly between them. That’s just the nature of the game.”
As Newsom concludes his trip, it’s notable that Biden has not met with Xi on U.S. soil since he took office in 2021, and the last time the leaders met was in November 2022 during a G-20 gathering in Bali, Indonesia. Yet Biden and senior officials are meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week in Washington. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to Biden, will push for China to be more constructively involved in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and the Ukraine-Russia war, which could also set the stage for Xi and Biden to meet at the summit in San Francisco next month.
Other lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who led a bipartisan delegation to China this month, are also working to thaw tensions between the two nations.
Still, Newsom’s role in thawing U.S.-China tensions should not be dismissed, irrespective of whether Xi travels to the U.S., nor should his political ambitions beyond California be ignored. “2028 is a long way away,” Scott, the Democratic strategist, said about Newsom’s future. “We’ve got some time ahead of us.”