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Xi's US Visit 2015

What's in a picture? The unspoken messages in Xi Jinping's group portrait with CEOs and senior executives during his first state visit to the US

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 6:05pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping (front row, center) posed for a group photo with Chinese and foreign CEOs and executives at Microsoft's campus in Washington on Wednesday during an internet industry forum, as part of his first official state visit to the US.

Xi will meet US President Barack Obama later in the week to discuss a range of thorny issues from cyber hacking to the devaluation of the yuan. 

In Chinese politics, the positioning of officials in photos is often highly symbolic.

READ MORE: ‘Just say open sesame’: Doors to the Chinese market will always be open to US companies, says Xi Jinping

The Chinese leader is flanked by IBM's Ginni Rometty (left) and Microsoft's Satya Nadella (right) - respresenting two of the biggest investors in China among US technology companies.

To ensure that no one, especially American social media companies, forgets the central role played by China's dissent-stifling Great Firewall, which is manned by tens if not hundreds of thousands of online censors, the only other government official in the front row is China's internet czar Lu Wei (fourth from right).

READ MORE: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg marks 'personal milestone' after minute-long chat with China's Xi Jinping

Apple has not invested anywhere near as much as Microsoft or IBM, but China now ranks as its biggest market so CEO Tim Cook also wins a place in the front row (third from right).

Pony Ma Huateng (second from right) is the founder and chairman of China's social and gaming giant Tencent, which operates the hugely popular WeChat and QQ mobile messaging platforms.

Facebook has been blocked on the Chinese mainland for years but co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has an estimated net worth of around US$37 billion, is reportedly working hard to find a way back in.

READ MORE: From Zuckerberg's Chinese to Lei Jun's English: tech leaders busy learning foreign languages

He also speaks Mandarin and has an ethnically Chinese wife, which may explain how he squeezed into the far left edge of the coveted front row. Note also the bold red tie - a common trope among senior Communist Party officials in China.

Between Zuckerberg and Xi stand the chiefs of China's two biggest e-commerce titans, testament to the power they wield both personally and professionally.

Second from left is JD.com's Liu Qiangdong. Fourth from left is Jack Ma Yun, the former English teacher from China's verdant Hangzhou in Zhejiang province.

Ma rose to become one of China's richest men after his group Alibaba, which runs the phenomenally successfully Taobao and Tmall online marketplaces, recalibrated the way Chinese shop - and helped them save money in the process. Note he is the only man in the picture not wearing a tie. 

Curiously, Lenovo, which acquired IBM's PC business a decade ago to emerge as one of modern China's biggest success stories, only merits a spot in the second row. CEO Yang Yuanqing (third from left, red tie) is now, whether he likes it or not, straddling a sunset industry.