Forget the slow boat to China. The hottest ticket to the Far East these days is aboard Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's airborne Orient Express. Traveling on one of President Clinton's personal Air Force jets, Brown plans to depart Aug. 26 for a weeklong "commercial diplomacy" mission to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. CEOs of U.S. telecom, infrastructure, and transportation companies--many competing for contracts that need Chinese government approval--are clam- oring for one of the 25 available seats. "It's the hottest trip we've had," says a Commerce Dept. official. "Everybody wants to go."
The manifest is a virtual who's who of the deal hungry: George Fisher of Kodak, Chrysler's Bob Eaton, Fred Smith of Federal Express, TRW's Joe Gorman, Bernard Schwartz of Loral, and Salomon Brothers' Robert Denham have nabbed seats.
Why? A similar Brown-led mission to Latin America helped seal Raytheon's $1.4 billion deal with Brazil for an eco-surveillance system for the Amazon. The stakes this time: contracts worth more than $6 billion for U.S. companies.