Chinese leader Xi Jinping made a direct appeal to American business leaders on Wednesday, declaring China’s willingness to be “a partner and friend” to the United States. His overture comes as China grapples with economic troubles that have dampened foreign investment.
Speaking in San Francisco during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Xi addressed a high-profile audience including Apple’s Tim Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk. He struck a conciliatory tone aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
Pursuing Cooperation Over Rivalry
Xi cautioned against seeing China and the US as destined rivals, saying it would “inevitably lead to wrong policies, wrong actions and wrong results.” He emphasized mutual benefit, telling executives China does not seek to challenge or replace the US.
“China is willing to be a partner and friend of the United States,” Xi declared. He said the US should similarly welcome a prosperous China as a peaceful, stable partner.
Xi’s remarks mark a dramatic shift in tone from his recent nationalist rhetoric that has alienated Western companies. With China’s economy under pressure, Xi appears ready to reverse the downward slide in relations with the business community.
Challenging Economic Environment
His overture comes as foreign direct investment (FDI) into China has slowed to a trickle, declining in 2021 for the first time in over 20 years.
China enjoyed a solid economic start to 2023 after emerging from three years of rigid Covid restrictions. But recovery has fizzled amid weak consumer spending, a deepening property crisis, and waning foreign investment.
“This isn’t a good time, given the state of the economy, to have hostile relations with American businesses and with the United States,” said Dexter Roberts, director of China affairs at the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center.
When economic growth stalls, Chinese leaders traditionally aim to bolster partnerships with foreign and private enterprises. With Xi now facing his own economic troubles, he appears ready to break from the nationalistic bent of his recent policies.
Overtures to US Business Community
Xi’s speech represented a direct appeal to the American executives and investors he hosted for dinner in San Francisco.
Attendance included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla founder Elon Musk and other business luminaries. The event was hosted by the US-China Business Council and National Committee on US-China Relations on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
The exclusive gathering offered Xi a chance to assuage growing unease among US companies toward China’s economic slowdown and tightening political controls.
In recent years, foreign firms have grown wary of Xi’s widening national security crackdown, which has ensnared international businesses in its dragnet.
Raids of foreign firms, arbitrary detentions of executives, and expanding restrictions have spooked global investors. According to Liu Dongshu, assistant professor at City University of Hong Kong, Xi’s rhetorical pivot aims to “signal that China is still a good place to invest.”
Xi’s tightening grip and “zero-COVID” policies have triggered an exodus of foreign capital. Overseas companies complain of rising policy uncertainty and opaque law enforcement that has chilled the once warm business climate.
Beyond political tensions, foreign businesses cite increasing instability within China as a reason for cold feet. Under Xi, China has intensified its anti-espionage regime, leading to high-profile raids of foreign firms.
With economic troubles mounting, China’s leader appears to have determined that confrontation is bad for business.
Xi’s speech represented an attempt to lure back multinational companies that power China’s economy. Only time will tell if his rhetorical olive branch leads to reversal of the policies complicating operations for overseas firms.
US executives listened with interest to Xi’s overtures of partnership and cooperation. But they remain cautious after years of tightening restrictions have stifled foreign participation in China’s high-growth sectors.
For Xi’s pledge of openness to become reality, US businesses will be watching for concrete steps that ease the regulatory burdens complicating investment in China. If Xi wants to win back America’s corporate titans, his words must be backed by meaningful action.
Faced with heightening economic woes, Xi Jinping made a pitch to US executives to cast China as an open and collaborative partner. His conciliatory overture aimed to arrest the slowing foreign investment complicating China’s growth trajectory.
With nationalist policies having alienated Western firms, Xi appears ready to curb confrontation in favor of courting overseas capital. US businesses welcomed Xi’s cooperative tone, but remain guarded after years of tightening regulation.
The coming months will demonstrate whether Xi’s rhetoric manifests into pro-business policies that reverse the chilling effects of his national security crackdown. As China’s economy falters, Xi’s pledge of partnership indicated an urgency to rebuild foreign corporate confidence.