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Former Starbucks chairman and chief executive Howard Schultz said he hoped for further success for the chain in China. Photo: AP

Starbucks can promote US-China trade, Chinese President Xi Jinping says in letter to its ex-boss

  • State media prints Xi’s letter to coffee chain’s former chairman Howard Schultz
  • Xi says China will ‘further open up to enterprises’ and hopes ‘Starbucks can play an active role in promoting US-China trade cooperation’
Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Starbucks’ former chairman Howard Schultz that he and the American coffee chain can play an active role in promoting US-China trade cooperation, state media reported.
With less than a week before US president-elect Joe Biden takes office, Chinese state media published a letter Xi wrote, reportedly in reply to correspondence from Schultz, who has the honorary title of Starbucks’ chairman emeritus.
The coverage of the letter on Thursday came almost exactly a year after a partial trade deal between the two nations was signed in an effort to pause their tariff war.

Xi’s letter, dated January 6, was quoted by Chinese state news agency Xinhua as saying: “China has embarked on the journey of becoming a modernised socialist country, [we] will further open up to enterprises all over the world including American companies like Starbucks. [We] hope Starbucks can play an active role in promoting US-China trade cooperation and bilateral ties.”


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CNN reported that Schultz had sent the Chinese president a letter emphasising Starbucks’ commitment to China, enclosing a translated copy of his book From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America.

In a statement, Schultz said it was a “great honour” to have received a reply from Xi and he believed “Starbucks’ best days are ahead in China”.

Billionaire Schultz, who left the Democratic Party last year over disagreements on a host of issues, once said he was considering running for president in 2020 as an independent, before later dropping the plan and throwing his support behind Biden before November’s US election.


The extensive coverage of the letter from Chinese state media came a day before the first anniversary of the interim trade deal that China and the US signed on January 15 last year.

It called a partial ceasefire in a trade war started under outgoing US President Donald Trump in July 2018, after rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs were slapped on billions of dollars worth of products, disrupting global supply chains.


Customers fight over Starbucks’ limited edition cat paw cup in China

Customers fight over Starbucks’ limited edition cat paw cup in China
Under the interim deal, Washington agreed to cut some tariffs in exchange for China committing to buy at least US$200 billion more of US goods and services over two years compared with 2017 levels. However, China has been falling behind in its import commitments, according to trade reports.

It is unclear how the new administration will take on the trade war started by Trump but Biden said in an interview in December that the tariffs would remain in place for now.

Meanwhile, Schultz, like the heads of many American enterprises aiming to expand in the lucrative Chinese market, has lamented the trade war, saying the US should be building bridges instead of walls.


When he was still the company’s chief executive in 2016, he had predicted the Chinese market would one day be bigger than the American one for Starbucks.

What is the US-China trade war?

China is now Starbucks’ top overseas growth market after it entered the country in 1999. It has more than 4,700 outlets in mainland China.


Beijing has often used US business leaders as interlocutors for relations with the United States, but American businesses have largely remained silent as those relations turned sour under Trump.

Schultz was known to have connections with top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, including having a meeting in 2012 with the former president Jiang Zemin.

Huang Jing, a professor at Beijing Language and Culture University, said Xi’s reply signalled Beijing’s commitment to ensuring a good business environment to foreign investors and a readiness to improve relations.


“Xi’s reply indicates that China will always be open to the United States and to the world, not decoupling with any country,” Huang said.

“Unlike Trump, Biden knows the US cannot win the game against China all by itself, so it needs allies, and to engage in multilateralism. This will offer China opportunities for cooperation with the US, such as on non-proliferation [of nuclear weapons] and cracking down on terrorism.”

Additional reporting by Rachel Zhang

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Xi tells ex-CEO of Starbucks he can boost bilateral ties