China’s Xi meets US execs as Beijing aims to woo, reignite investor interest

The meeting’s effectiveness lies in whether business leaders could tell Xi directly what is needed, says expert.
By Kwong Wing for RFA Cantonese and Stacy Hsu for RFA Mandarin
2024.03.28
China’s Xi meets US execs as Beijing aims to woo, reignite investor interest Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, walks with representatives from American business, strategic and academic communities at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 27, 2024.
Shen Hong/Xinhua via AP

Updated at 9:35 am ET on March 28, 2024.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said bilateral relations with the United States “cannot return to the past” but told U.S. business leaders Beijing was planning to deepen economic reforms to offer foreign investors more opportunities.

The meeting on Wednesday came amid Beijing’s ongoing efforts to arrest declining foreign investment into the world’s second-largest economy and rebuild ties with investors.

Foreign businesses have been spooked by China’s draconian measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and tightened regulations such as the anti-espionage law, and raids on consultancies and due diligence firms. 

Foreign investment into China sank 8% last year as the economy sputtered at its slowest growth pace since 1990.

“China-U.S. relations cannot return to the past, but they can have a better future,” Xi told visiting representatives of the U.S. business community and “strategic academia” at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He said the two countries should cooperate with each other in international political and economic development.

The meeting also broke convention with Xi personally taking charge, and meeting the business leaders himself following the end of the annual China Development Forum.

In previous years, the forum – initiated by Beijing in 2000 – featured a closed-door discussion with the foreign chief executives where China’s number two in power, the Chinese premier who has traditionally held the economic portfolio, entertained questions from the foreign investors. The premier’s meeting was canceled this year.

Center of attention

Photos released by Xinhua showed Xi very much at the center of it all. 

In one, Xi, flanked by insurer Chubb’s Chief Executive Officer Evan Greenberg on his right and former Carlyle Group Asia Managing Director Stephen Orlins on the other side, was pictured leading the Americans into the conference hall.

Greenberg and Orlins represent the National Committee on United States-China Relations, the non-governmental organization that strives to improve Sino-U.S. relations. The late and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who was seen as a friend of Beijing, had served as executive vice chairman of the committee.

The U.S. delegation included Cristiano Amon, president of chip maker Qualcomm; Stephen Schwarzman, founder of asset manager BlackRock; CEO of FedEx Raj Subramaniam; Mark Carney, chairman of Bloomberg; Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council; and the former dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School Graham Allison.

According to Xinhua, Xi  listened carefully to the speeches of the U.S. representatives and responded to their concerns one by one.

The report quoted Xi  as saying that Sino-U.S. relations have experienced many twists and turns in recent years. But he also tried to reassure the foreign investors.

“China’s reforms will not pause, the opening will not stop. We are planning and implementing a series of major measures to comprehensively deepen reforms, continue to build a market-oriented, legal and international first-class business environment, to provide enterprises from all over the world, including American companies, more space to develop,” Xi was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

He stressed that the Chinese economy didn’t collapse as suggested by the “China collapse theory” in the past, nor has it peaked according to the current “China peak theory.” 

“China’s development prospects are bright. We have the confidence,” he added.

Squeezed out

The meeting was the second time American executives had an audience with the Chinese leader. Xi addressed U.S. business leaders at a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco in November.

Xinhua reported that Foreign Minister Wang Yi accompanied Xi in the meeting but did not mention the presence of Premier Li Qiang. The meeting lasted 90 minutes, according to Reuters.

Thomas J. Duesterberg, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, pointed out in an interview with Radio Free Asia that the effectiveness of the meeting rested on the American executives’ ability to directly convey their message to Xi.

Duesterberg said China has gradually squeezed foreign companies out of the Chinese market in the past decade, to a degree that “American companies cannot participate in the Chinese market to the extent that Chinese companies can participate in the U.S. market.” 

But China’s economic slowdown now requires it to rely on the export market, he said.

“I hope that behind closed doors, these CEOs have conveyed to Xi Jinping that if he wants to continue to enter the U.S. market, he must do better and allow U.S. and other foreign companies to operate in China on a reciprocal basis.”

Translated by RFA Staff. Edited by Taejun Kang, Mike Firn and Paul Eckert.

Recasts lead and adds context, breaks up some paragraphs.

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