Xi Jinping meets US business leaders seeking to mend China ties

CEOs had travelled to attend the China Development Forum, Beijing’s flagship annual business conference

China’s President Xi Jinping met US chief executives including Chubb’s Evan Greenberg and Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon on Wednesday as American business leaders sought to mend ties frayed by geopolitical and trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The gathering comes as concern is growing among China’s trading partners that Beijing is investing heavily in manufacturing to overcome a deep property slowdown, leading to oversupply and potential dumping in international markets.

State news agency Xinhua reported that the meeting was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and included a photo shoot with the executives, which Beijing’s official broadcaster CCTV said also included Bloomberg chair Mark Carney and FedEx’s Raj Subramaniam.

It also said Blackstone’s founder joined the gathering without naming him. Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman is in Beijing visiting officials.


The chief executives were in the capital this week to attend the China Development Forum, Beijing’s flagship annual business conference. Mr Xi had met US business leaders in November during a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco that was organised by the US-China Business Council and the National Committee on US-China Relations. The heads of both organisations, Craig Allen and Stephen Orlins, also participated in the meeting with Mr Xi on Wednesday.

People familiar with the matter said about 20 US executives were due to meet Mr Xi. European chief executives who had also flocked to Beijing at the weekend for the CDF were not invited to the Wednesday meeting. The people said this was because it was organised in response to the San Francisco event.

US-China relations have partly stabilised since Mr Xi and US President Joe Biden held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Apec forum.

But tensions continue to flare. The US has pledged to investigate whether imported Chinese electric vehicles constitute a security threat, while Beijing has blocked the use of Apple’s iPhone and Tesla vehicles in government offices. Beijing on Tuesday filed a World Trade Organization case against US EV subsidies.

China has sought to present a more welcoming picture to international business in recent months after foreign direct investment fell last year to its lowest level in decades.

Last week, ahead of the CDF, China announced clarifications to new data laws in a move welcomed by businesses anxious about cross-border data transfers.

“The [US] companies that are here to serve the China market or to sell into China, I think they’re a little more positive than they were, say, a year out,” said Sean Stein, chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “There are still deep structural issues that are holding the economy back, but the cyclical part seems to have improved, and so where they are in the business cycle is in a better place.”

Business heads have traditionally met China’s second-ranked leader, the premier, after the CDF. That did not happen this year, and China’s premier, Li Qiang, did not hold a briefing at the conclusion of the rubber-stamp parliament’s annual meeting this month. In the past, the press conference served as a rare opportunity for domestic and international media to question the official in charge of the world’s second-biggest economy.

But there were more bilateral meetings with ministers at the CDF and conversations were more direct compared with last year, attendees said.

Denis Depoux, global managing director at consultancy Roland Berger, said there were more foreign visitors at this year’s CDF and at the Boao Forum for Asia, another international conference that opened on Tuesday on China’s Hainan island.

“It’s more like 2019,” Mr Depoux said. “I saw a lot more CEOs at the CDF and they were a lot more vocal.”

China’s economy is showing signs of stabilising, with industrial profits up 10.2 per cent for the January-February period from a year earlier, according to official statistics released on Wednesday, although this was partially thanks to a low base in 2023.

The chief executive of one large multinational company said the rhetoric from Beijing, including from Li, who spoke at the opening of the CDF, was more “confident” than last year.

But he said it was difficult to know whether this was an attempt to shore up investor sentiment or genuinely felt by the leadership given the structural challenges in China’s economy.

“It’s very hard to call it at the moment,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024