San Francisco, United States
In a whirlwind US trip this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping held long talks with President Joe Biden, got a standing ovation from top business leaders, and even hinted there could be more pandas on the way to the United States.
The high-profile welcome for Xi in San Francisco, coupled with the summit where he and Biden agreed to restore suspended US-Chinese military communications, add up to a successful visit, analysts say.
But in the face of heightened business risks and enduring national security concerns, experts say the rhetoric needs now to be backed up by action if it is produce meaningful long-term results for the Chinese leader, whose slowing economy needs to reverse the flight of foreign capital.
“For China, Xi’s ability to gain a prominent platform in San Francisco (and) to speak with US business leaders was a success in and of itself,” said Nathaniel Sher, senior research analyst at Carnegie China.
At a dinner Wednesday attended by executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook and BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Xi said China was ready to be a “partner and friend” of the United States. He hinted Beijing could send more panda bears — always a huge hit at US zoos — as “envoys of friendship.”
The world’s richest person, Tesla and SpaceX tycoon Elon Musk, also met Xi before the dinner with other representatives, said Tesla in a Chinese social media post.
Xi’s appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco marked a rare chance for him to interact with foreign business leaders, noted Trivium China in a newsletter, offering the opportunity to challenge the idea that China is inhospitable to foreign firms.
He did not show up in person to the APEC CEO summit — and China did not offer an explanation for the no-show — offering instead a written speech inviting firms to invest and deepen their footprint, promising “heart-warming” measures “to make it easier for foreign companies to invest and operate in China.”
But beyond the warm words, US investors will be watching Xi’s actions, as the world’s number two economy slows and business confidence weakens.
China’s anti-espionage law, cybersecurity investigations, raids on multinationals, wrongful detentions and non-market practices “all have chilling effects on foreign investment,” Sher told AFP.
“Above all, multinationals want more legal and regulatory predictability in China, not more hollow statements about China’s commitment to win-win development,” he added.
On the political front, the sit-down with Biden could be said to have been a qualified success, observers said.
The United States and China have a common goal of stabilization of their relations after a rough few years, said Australian ambassador to the United States Kevin Rudd.
“It means reopening former lines — political, diplomatic and now military communication,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
“This is not just a term, it actually has machinery of government around it,” said the former Australian prime minister.
“The bottom line with all the above is the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. The framework is there, they’re measurable. What will now happen in practice?”
For now, the restoration of military-to-military communications is “just the first step,” he said.
It remains unclear if China has changed its own strategic timetable surrounding Taiwan — the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own — or if the latest talks will change its military’s behavior.
To Seton Hall University professor Zheng Wang, Xi’s first US visit in six years and the Biden-Xi summit symbolize “a potential turning point” in bilateral ties after the hostility of recent years.
“We’ve witnessed a trade war, technology conflicts, and the far-reaching impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
And now Biden will be managing his reelection campaign while monitoring war in Ukraine and tensions in the Middle East, while Xi navigates China’s economic challenges and the perpetual intrigue of politics at the top of the Communist Party. A former foreign minister has gone missing and the whereabouts of the defense minister remain unclear.
“Stable and constructive US-China relations are therefore needed for both sides,” Wang said.
Yet, Xi could have gone “much further” to reassure the United States and the global community of China’s benign intentions, Sher said.
“If the ‘rejuvenation’ of China entails a rejection of the existing international order, nothing that Chinese leaders say in international fora will prevent the US and its partners from seeking to impede Beijing’s rise,” he said.
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