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Chinese President Xi Jinping (left, front) talks to private entrepreneurs during a symposium at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Xinhua

The guest list giving a glimpse of Xi Jinping’s thinking about China’s economic future

  • Xi prefers hi-tech firms and manufacturers than property developers
  • Xi in particular values private businesses in cutting-edge technologies

The guest list of private entrepreneurs who attended a landmark “symposium” chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday sheds light on the Chinese leader’s preferences for businesses, reflecting his thinking about the country’s future.

A total number of 52 private entrepreneurs were invited to the meeting on Thursday, according to a full guest list seen by the South China Morning Post, with 13 government ministers also in attendance.

It is the first time since Xi came to power that he had gathered his top economic policymakers and people from private business community in the same room.

The entrepreneurs are not necessarily super rich – although Pony Ma of Tencent, Robin Li of Baidu and Lei Jun of Xiaomi were among them. They are also not necessarily those who have constantly pledged loyalty to the Communist Party, as many of them are not members of the National People’s Congress or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

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The 10 private entrepreneurs chosen to speak at the meeting were all relatively unknown business owners from the general public.

But business attendees all had something in common – they either have certain skills that are important for the country or they are developing a technology that could make a difference in the future.

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According to a government official involved in finalising the invitation list, Xi said he did not want to hear the views of “star entrepreneurs” but rather the thinking of those business owners who controlled a lion’s share of China’s economic landscape and whose success, or failure, could matter for the economy.

Tang Xiao’ou, founder of artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime, was one of Xi Jinping’s guests at a landmark “symposium” with private business owners. Photo: Handout

Another noticeable aspect of the guest list is that there were no estate developers or financial speculators at the meeting.

The speakers included executives of traditional, but successful industrial firms, such as Liu Jiren, chairman of Neusoft, a software engineering service provider; and Lu Weiding, chief executive of car parts maker Wanxiang.

Others were leaders in new hi-tech industries, such as Tang Xiao’ou, the founder of SenseTime, China’s leading artificial intelligence firm; and Tan Jianfeng, chairman of PeopleNet, an encryption technology company.

“The list showed authorities still pay high attention to small and medium-sized enterprises and the technology sector,” Orient Securities chief economist Shao Yu said.

Shao said the list also showed China was trying hard to develop its own technologies to reduce its reliance on imports amid the trade war and constant US threats to cut off hi-tech suppliers to China.

According to the state television, the representatives from the hi-tech firms, including Chen Tianshi of Cambricon Technologies, another AI firm, sat in the first row right across from Xi.

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The day before the symposium, the Politburo, the country’s highest decision-making body chaired by Xi, said that China must develop, control and use AI to secure the country’s future in the next technological and industrial revolution.

Xi’s speech at the symposium showered praises on China’s private enterprises and pledged to protect them and provide aid, if necessary.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Xi’s guest list hints at his view of future