Monday, February 17, 2020
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McDonnell’s Incompetence Saved Tarnish of Corruption

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.  

Republican Merit and an Invitation to the Big Tent

Delegate Bob Purkey (R-82nd) fancies himself a business and financial sensei. To some extent he demonstrates certain acumen. But the minute he wanders off his point, he slips into quicksand. Saturday, he did just that when attempting to praise Jim Cheng. It illuminated Republican pandering to non-whites. Welcome to VBRP.

Quite possibly Purkey means well. At the very least, he's subtle. For years Purkey has talked about the need for Republicans to bring minorities into the Republican tent. He always approaches the subject in a manner similar to this:

"It's interesting, you know when you look, the future of our country is our young people and the future of our country is diversity." - Delegate Purkey

It seems important for Purkey to emphasize that the Republican Party should reach out to non-whites. When he explains how Jim Cheng came to be the Secretary of Trade and Commerce in the McDonnell administration, McDonnell's ability to identify and recruit talent is cited as the reason. Somehow it must be Jimmy's work that attracted the Governor's attention. But conveniently:

McDonnell Administration: Call Us When We Can Take Credit

Even being handed a smoking gun, the McDonnell administration managed nothing more than to hedge a bet. Jim Cheng made a veiled effort to position the administration so it could claim participation and credit or maintain credible deniability for Waynesboro's overseas trade venture. Governor McDonnell's team just don't hunt.

"The secretary of trade [Jim Cheng] wants to hold a meeting after I get back to discuss future development of the foreign trade zone and what we're doing here." - Waynesboro councilman Mike Harris to The News Virginian

It isn't American economic development China is after, nor should it be. It's about business and national interests: concepts well beyond the scope of the Bob McDonnell team's skill set (see: ABC Privatization, VRS funding, and the soon to be nostalgic AAA bond rating). By the way, the hunt would have taken only a few keystrokes or a call to, heaven forbid, a scholar at the University of Virginia. Why didn't Cheng know that Hong Kong is positioned as a primary arbiter for wine imports to mainland China? That China is already a domestic wine producer and intends to become a major exporter (Great Wall Wine Company and others already export worldwide). That the Chinese domestic competition sells a mid-range wine for about $5.45 a bottle but export quality is fetching $30 to $45 per bottle in Hong Kong (all USD). That this may be an effort at import/export arbitrage; that we might leverage that margin to our advantage. We shouldn't give away the vineyard for a short term gain or potential near-term boom and the inevitable long-term disappointment. But Cheng was not so forthcoming.

"In terms of overall growth in demand for wine in China over the next 10 years, China will become both a massive producer and a massive importer of wine," says Don St Pierre, head of ASC, the Chinese wine importer and distributor acquired by Japanese drinks giant Suntory in 2009.

Wine has suffered the same trials as any number of other Chinese products. Excessive levels of ethanol and chemical additives have resulted in safety concerns and recalls. Virginia winery best practices may be the object of Chinese attention rather than the wines that are being produced in our region. Or it could be something entirely different. One thing is certain: China is not footing the bill for the Waynesboro councilman's journey without an anticipated return on investment. Another thing is certain: Governor McDonnell's team is out of its league. It can't even table the equivalent of a city councilman's initiative; nor, they have proven, should they. But they are happy to share anything Councilman Price may accomplish so long as there's credit to go around. They are proving how much they do love credit.