SEATTLE – Chinese President Xi Jinping spent Wednesday shoring up his country’s shaky relations with major U.S. companies. He promised better business opportunities while meeting with 30 chief executives — including leaders from Apple, Microsoft, Disney and General Motors — then seemingly delivered when Boeing announced a massive order from China.
Xi used the business summit to call for further easing of restrictions on U.S. corporations and to tout the massive potential of the Chinese market. He acknowledged criticism of China’s business environment, including problems related to intellectual-property theft and limits on foreign investment in the country, and said his government wants to fix these issues, too.
“We will continue to build a law-based business environment, an open environment,” Xi said during brief remarks at a U.S.-
China business roundtable, an otherwise closed-door event billed as an opportunity for the
30 chief executives, evenly split between companies from the United States and China, to have private discussions.
Xi offered his support for a proposed investment treaty between the two nations, which supporters say would offer clearer rules for foreign investment. He said the treaty would lead to more transparent markets.
“This is in keeping with China’s direction of deepening reforms and opening up, and also it will be beneficial to U.S. companies,” he said.
Xi called for a reduction in limits on what American companies can sell in China. His case was helped by Boeing’s announcement that China was ordering 300 planes, worth about $38 billion, and that the aerospace giant would build a factory there.
“Chinese companies also hope to see substantive steps by the U.S. to ease restrictions on exports for civilian, hi-tech items to China and create a level playing field for Chinese investment in the U.S.,” Xi said.
“A level playing field” has been a frequently used refrain by officials on both sides during Xi’s seven-day U.S. tour, which began here Tuesday and will send him to the District for a state dinner Thursday, then to New York for a speech at the United Nations.
The chief executives, despite being at a roundtable, sat in a rectangle around Xi as he spoke, Americans on one side, Chinese on the other. The event was hosted by the Paulson Institute and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. Apple’s Tim Cook sat next to GM’s Mary Barra, who sat next to Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway.
Other U.S. corporate leaders included Disney’s Bob Iger, Amazon’s Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. On the other side were Chinese chief executives including Robin Li of Baidu, Pony Ma of Tencent and Jack Ma of Alibaba. Xi reminded the corporate crowd of China’s potential, noting that his country’s middle-income population is nearing 300 million — “about the same as the U.S. population” — and is expected to double in 10 years. He said that China has the world’s largest car market, and has 600 million Internet users and 1.2 billion mobile-phone users. He name-checked Amazon, Cisco and Apple in noting the opportunities.
Xi also pushed for Chinese investment in the United States, saying China would spend $1.25 trillion in foreign investment and create up to 400,000 full-time U.S. jobs over the next 10 years.
In his remarks, Xi recalled how he supported giving permission to Disney to build its first theme park in China — Shanghai Disney Resort, now under construction — a detail that in some ways demonstrated both his country’s new openness and the control still wielded by party officials.