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Gov. Jerry Brown says California wants China’s help on electric vehicles

The "Star Wars" theme song blared as participants entered Nanjing’s environmental conference on Monday, a fitting lead-in to Gov. Jerry Brown’s fervent speech about climate change and the new frontiers he pledged to conquer.

The Democratic governor gave his usual rally cry in this coastal Chinese city, imploring the packed ballroom to help reinforce a global commitment to climate change. But a more specific theme also emerged, an undercurrent in his five-night trip that he’s echoed in several meetings with officials: Brown is looking to China for the future of California’s electric vehicles.

The state aims to put 4 million to 5 million electric cars on roads by 2030, he said at the event, “and we aren’t going to get there until Chinese business people, Chinese government leaders make it a priority to develop batteries and electric cars. And we will too.”

Brown emphasized a partnership again when signing a clean-tech agreement with the Communist Party head of Jiangsu province. He told reporters that he highlighted the issue with Sichuan officials a day earlier, and stressed battery and electric car improvement as a tangible goal to reduce carbon pollution.

For the state to reach its environmental goals, “California and the world will need the cost of batteries and electric vehicles to come down,” said Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation at UC Davis, who is in Beijing for a different international clean-energy summit this week. “China is a leader in this area.”   

It works like this: More competitors in the market lower the cost, he said, and raise the quality.

Brown spent much of his afternoon Monday on another project he envisions for California — high-speed rail. California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols and members of Brown’s staff snapped photos as a sleek, white bullet train pulled into Nanjing.

Four years ago on his last visit, the governor walked the aisles on another high-speed train. He wanted Chinese investment to fund his longtime dream — one still far from fruition.

“There is Japan, China, Germany, maybe more, they are all in the running,” he said about assistance building the bullet train, the state’s biggest public works project.

If the project proceeds as planned, it will deliver people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. Work has started on a section in the Central Valley but the effort still faces economic and political obstacles.

“The high speed rail in California is under construction,” he said, standing comfortably between compartments as the train neared Beijing. “We have money and we are spending. And we will continue to do so.”

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