McDonnell’s failed trade mission to China, an expensive effort at personal aggrandizement that netted two jobs (in Shanghai) may have had a blessing in disguise. After all is said and done, his bumbling attempt to conduct economic diplomacy saved him from an association with Bo Xilai’s venal Chongquing administration.
With no trade success to report during last year’s trip, much of the press coverage of McDonnell’s boondoggle was filled with other issues like Virginia’s own Republican Delegate Phil Hamilton scandal. The Governor never managed to meet with officials in the municipality that was to be the focus of his visit to promote Virginia tourism, wines, or anything he could claim as an accomplishment. Just as well, these fellows play for keeps, way out of the league of an international neophyte.
‘You cross me – never come to China, you’ll never get out of jail’. Gu Kailai, wife of Bo, warning a British businessman attempting to start up a tourism venture.
There were so many missteps, it is difficult to fix a cause for the failure. McDonnell’s front man for commerce, Jim Cheng might have been one reason for the failed effort to engage. As a practical matter, Cheng’s close ties to Taiwan aren’t the bona fides the Chinese look at good naturedly. Whether it was that or McDonnell’s inept planning, they dodged a bullet. An association with the disgraced Bo would not curry favor with the likes of Hu Jintao, China’s leader himself, who is said to have been the subject of Bo’s wiretapping. All of this could have been avoided by leveraging State Department resources in China. Or it easily could have been poor relations with staffers in China that set things headed downhill.
I am reminded of a Marine General officer who thought he could blow into the United Arab Emirates, show up at the doorstep of anyone with whom he wanted an audience and make demands for access. His staff contacted the American embassy and told them he wanted to meet with Sheik Mo(hammad), who the General understood held the keys to Abu Dhabi. Well, Sheik Mohammad was indeed the man to see. But, there are more Sheik Mohammads in the UAE than you can shake a stick at. Personnel at the consulate, put off by the overbearing demands, decided to give the General exactly what he asked for. The General got his audience and the Sheik Mo that he met with is probably to this day wondering why the General dropped by.
“McDonnell said in a conference call with reporters that he’s “very optimistic about the opportunities” to increase trade ties between Virginia and China. He says announcements are likely soon on agricultural and manufacturing agreements.” Richmond Times Dispatch, May 13, 2011
Throughout Governor McDonnell’s term in office he has continually demonstrated that he believes having the position should be enough; that that entitles him to respect, success, and his own telling of the story. Well, it doesn’t. And on the recent tour of Virginia promoting his jobs success, what were noticeably missing were the stops at the Chinese, Indian, and Israeli business ventures that have sprung from his treks to distant lands.
At least this time, the tour didn’t cost quite the bundle he’s lavished upon himself previously. And more fortunately for future trade deals between Chinese businesses and Virginia’s, there are a bunch of people in China still wondering why Bob McDonnell dropped by.