Chinese officials visit Fresno to talk business. Why one city leader refused to meet with them

Photo courtesy of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer/Twitter

Fresno politicians and business leaders dipped their toes into the global business space this week during a meeting with Chinese officials to explore trade and investment opportunities.

At least one Fresno elected official made a political statement about COVID-19 policies by declining the invitation.

The meeting was hosted by Fresno Economic Development Corporation, which is a member of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development’s California-China Trade and Investment network.

The EDC facilitated a meeting Monday at Chuckchansi Park between local elected officials and business leaders with China’s Consul General Zhang Ping, whose district covers multiple southwestern states.

“As we have numerous companies in Fresno County that export to China, the EDC hosted the visit,” CEO Lee Ann Eager told The Bee. “We hope to have more opportunities for foreign direct investment in Fresno County and look forward to additional meetings like this with all of our trade partners.”

Among the elected officials to attend the meeting and welcome the consul general was Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer.

“Welcome to Fresno,” Dyer tweeted. “Hope you were pleased to learn more about our local community, the business environment, and the work that Fresno County EDC does to connect to opportunities.”

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At least one local elected official declined the EDC’s invitation. Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias tweeted that he refused the invitation, partly due to recent protests in China over strict COVID-19 lockdown rules.

“Today I declined the invitation to meet with the #China delegation seeking to do business in our city,” Arias said in a tweet. He also shared screenshots of news stories about the protests.

“The recent #ChinaProtests are the latest example of a communist country placing more value on business interest than human rights. The city of Fresno is better than that,” Arias said.

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Protesters all over China have taken to the streets in response to the country’s “zero COVID” policies to combat outbreaks. The Chinese government swiftly responded by deploying police and tightening information.

Fresno Councilmember Mike Karbassi and Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau joined Dyer in meeting the Consul General.

It’s not the first time this year that elected officials have met with global leaders for city business.

Karbassi in September visited Armenia on an annual medical relief mission. In April, Dyer and a group of city leaders flew down to Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco to sign a formal Sister City Agreement with Guadalajara’s mayor, Pablo Lemus Navarro. Dyer also traveled to Vienna in September to study housing strategies.