China is ready to be “a partner and a friend” of the United States, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told U.S. business leaders in San Francisco on Wednesday, as he sought to woo U.S. companies amid decline in foreign investment in China.
In a speech evoking decades of shared history and loaded with symbols of the warm relations between the United States and China, Xi said at a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that the most fundamental question shaping bilateral relations is whether countries are rivals or partners.
“If we view each other as the biggest rival, the biggest geopolitical challenge and an ever-pressing threat, it will inevitably lead to bad policies, bad actions and bad results,” Xi told an audience including the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, and Tesla. CEO Elon Musk.
“China is willing to be a partner and friend of the United States,” he added.
Xi received a standing ovation from the leaders. His speech comes hours after extensive talks with US President Joe Biden, during which both leaders took positive steps to stabilize the troubled relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
Hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the evening offered Xi an opportunity to appeal directly to U.S. leaders, increasingly wary of the economic slowdown of China and Xi’s tightening grip on the economy, including a widening national security crackdown that has spooked foreign businesses.
In his speech, Xi struck a conciliatory tone, saying China and the United States should not engage in a zero-sum game, in which one gains at the expense of the other.
“China has never bet on the defeat of the United States, has never intervened in American internal affairs, and has no intention of challenging or replacing the United States. China is happy to see a confident, open and prosperous United States,” Xi said.
Likewise, he added, the United States should “welcome a peaceful, stable and prosperous China.”
Xi dedicated a significant portion of his speech to highlighting the long-standing relationship between the American and Chinese people – and the important role they have played in developing diplomatic relations.
He dove deep into history to name the “Flying Tigers” – a group of American pilots who helped China fight Japan in World War II.
He also cited his own “unforgettable experience” staying with an American family in Iowa during his first trip to the United States nearly four decades ago. “To me, they represent America,” he said of his host family.
Xi recalled entering the United States on this trip via San Francisco, which he said formed his “first impression” of America. The 31-year-old also posed for a photo in front of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, a photo he says he has kept to this day.
“This morning, President Biden found (the photo) somewhere and showed it to me,” he said, provoking a burst of laughter in the room.
In a bid to strengthen personal ties between the two countries, China will invite 50,000 young Americans to visit China for exchanges and studies in the next five years, Xi said.
“We should build more bridges and open more roads for people-to-people exchanges, instead of erecting various obstacles and creating a deterrent effect,” Xi said.
Dexter Roberts, director of Chinese affairs at the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center, said Xi’s overtly friendly tone was a reflection of China’s economic woes.
The Chinese economy had a good start to 2023 after emerging from three years of Covid-related restrictions, but the recovery ran out of steam in the second quarter. The country is now grappling with growing challenges, from weak consumer spending to a deepening housing crisis to falling foreign investment.
Earlier this month, a measure of foreign direct investment in China slipped into the red for the first time since 1998, highlighting the country’s inability to stem capital outflows.
“This is not the right time, given the state of the economy, to have hostile relations with American businesses and with the United States,” Roberts said. “When the economy turns south, China’s top leaders start saying, ‘We want to work with foreign companies and our own private companies.'”
Liu Dongshu, an assistant professor of Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong, said China must demonstrate its “will to openness” amid its economic woes.
“China wants to benefit from a better diplomatic and international environment to boost (business) confidence,” Liu said.
“That’s why China wants to change its narrative a little bit and wants to be kinder and have a warmer tone and attitude, to signal that China is still a good place to invest,” he said.
While growing geopolitical tensions are partly to blame for the capital exodus, with the United States imposing investment restrictions in China’s high-tech sector, foreign companies and investors are also wary of growing risks in the country, notably the possibility of raids and detentions.
Under Xi, China has further expanded the scope of its anti-espionage law, conducted raids on U.S. consulting and due diligence companies, and arrested executives in the name of national security, sending chills down the spine of the foreign business world.
Meanwhile, intensifying regulatory crackdowns have also shaken China’s business community, where more than a dozen top executives from industries including technology, finance and real estate to have disappeared, been detained or investigated for corruption This year.
Fred Hu, founder and CEO of Primavera Capital Group, told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore last week that “Chinese entrepreneurs are flat on their backs, or flat on their backs.”
“This feeling of insecurity, from my observation, in the Chinese entrepreneurial community, is really — I haven’t seen it like this since 1978,” Hu said, referring to the year when China s is committed to the path of reform and opening up in the aftermath of the crisis. the Cultural Revolution.
“The biggest priority for me is legal reform. It’s really about establishing a true rule of law which is essential for the proper functioning of a modern market economy, like China,” he said. he declared, emphasizing the importance of protecting entrepreneurs against threats. “arbitrary political interference and, even worse, legal action.”
If China “really commits to the rule of law and market reforms, I think trust will slowly but surely return, then the animal spirit will be revived,” he added.