Staff Reporter

When it comes to U.S.-China relations, business and politics don't mix.

That appears to be the undercurrent behind this week's visit to Los Angeles of more than 100 businesspeople from Jiangsu province being billed as the largest Chinese trade delegation ever to visit California.

The trip comes at an awkward time. In Beijing, the American Embassy has been the target of several days of protests over the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Despite the protests, Chinese business people from such fields as electronics, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, real estate and textiles are sticking with their plan to meet with their L.A. counterparts as well as to get advice from local officials on doing business in the United States.

"I expect the end result is, they will know California better," said Lily Y. Wong, executive director of the USA-China Chamber of Commerce, one of the lead sponsors of the two-day event.

"They want to learn how to do business in California. I think they want to invest in California," she said. "They want American business people and American government people to see the willingness that they want to do business and show how we can do business with them."

The Chinese trade delegation is expected to include 13 Chinese mayors from the Jiangsu province and Jiangsu Lt. Gov. Wang Rong Bing.

Wong said she had been concerned that the NATO bombing would stop the trip. "I called them (last week), and there is no change," she said. "I think we all like to do business with each other; the politics we cannot control."

U.S. defense officials said the bombing was accidental the result of outdated information provided by the CIA.

Political problems existed between the U.S. and China long before the bombing in Belgrade. Last month, after long negotiations, President Clinton and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji failed to reach an agreement on China joining the World Trade Organization, which would have eased trading between the U.S. and China.

The premier did agree to open China to citrus imports from the United States. The news cheered companies like Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist Growers Inc., which is among the firms that plan to attend this week's trade conference.

Despite lingering trade restrictions between the U.S. and China, the world's most populous country is a major trading partner with businesses in Los Angeles County. In 1998, China exported $25.8 billion worth of goods into the L.A. customs district, making it the No. 2 exporter into the area after Japan, according to the Bureau of the Census and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But only $2.9 billion in goods were exported to China through the L.A. customs district last year making it only No. 7 among destinations for exports, behind Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and other destinations.

Among those hoping to ease that trade imbalance is George Du, a vice president of international sales at Food Engineering Service International, a Glendora company that makes food-processing equipment, including a device that extracts concentrates from fruits and vegetables.

While FES International already exports its equipment to food processing operations in China, India, Canada and elsewhere, Du said he hopes to meet more potential clients during this week's conference.

"We are looking for new customers in this delegate group," Du said, adding that he is anticipating an hour-long May 20 meeting devoted to agriculture, food processing and beverages. "We hope that (the USA-China Chamber) is going to make arrangements for the right people to talk to us."

Dwight Johnson, president of Thousand Oaks-based Reel Entertainment Inc., a fledgling movie production company, said that while he already has Asia business contacts, he hopes to make new contacts at the trade conference.

"We're just going to kind of check out who's there and also try to schedule a couple meetings with a couple of people," Johnson said, adding that he has been told some of the delegates are looking for investment opportunities in California something from which his new company could benefit. "It is right in line with what we're currently doing," he said.

Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said the Jiangsu province could be especially valuable to the United States because the city of Shanghai, which is located there, is trying to regain its title as one of Asia's premiere business centers.

In making that push, Kyser said, Los Angeles will be important to Shanghai because of L.A.'s large Chinese population, diversified business base and transportation links to the rest of the U.S.

"Los Angeles is the main gateway into the United States" for Shanghai, he said.

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