China-US relations

China hands out olive branch via Apple, Facebook and Tesla ahead of Trump’s Asia visit

Xi spoke to business advisers of Tsinghua University’s business school, including Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 1:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 3:57pm

Xi Jinping, a week into his second five-year term as China’s president, outlined a vision of openness, mutually beneficial cooperation and delicate diplomacy with the outside world, choosing to sound his thoughts out at a gathering of foreign business advisers in the country’s most prestigious university.

“China’s development offers opportunities for the world,” Xi said, according to a transcript by state news agency Xinhua. China’s economic reform is not a zero-sum game of “winners and losers, but about creating win-win situations through cooperation,” he said.

The Chinese president’s message was delivered to an audience that included Americans that make up the who’s who of US business and industry. Specifically, Xi had in his mind Donald Trump, whose administration refused on Monday to qualify China as a market economy, taking to scold America’s second-biggest trading partner days before the US president is due for his first visit to China since taking office.

“I am looking forward to President Trump’s upcoming visit to China,” Xi said. China is willing to work with the US to “look after each other’s interests and concerns and to properly solve disputes and contradictions,” the Chinese president said, striking a different tone to the US Commerce Department memo that argued for disqualifying China. “We have an optimistic attitude toward the prospects for China-US relations,” he said.

Much is at stake for Trump’s China trip, as the US ran a US$347 billion trade deficit with China last year. It’s a widening gap that generations of US presidents since the 1980s have sought to close. Trump had boasted on the presidential campaign trail of his ability to get a better deal out of trade negotiations with China, and had promised to bring American jobs home and close its trade gap.

The US Commerce Department memo, taken in conjunction with US investigations into Chinese aluminium foil exports, reinforces the argument that China doesn’t yet qualify to be regarded as a market economy in the adjudication of trade disputes and dumping cases. Under World Trade Organisation rules, countries that don’t regard China as “market economies” are entitled to levy higher tariffs on Chinese exports.

“At its core, the framework of China’s economy is set by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, which exercise control directly and indirectly over the allocation of resources through instruments such as government ownership and control of key economic actors and government directives,” the US Commerce Department said, according to a Bloomberg report.

Zhu Rongji, China’s premier from 1998 to 2003 and a Tsingua alumnus, is honorary chairman of the advisory board to his alma mater’s business school, founded in 1984.

Wang Qishan, who stepped down last week as China’s anti-corruption tsar, is an honorary member of the board. Liu He, chief economic advisor to Xi, and China’s bank regulator Guo Shuqing are also members of the advisory board.

Several Americans sit on the board, including Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, Goldman Sachs’ chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, Dell Technologies’ chairman Michael Dell, Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk and Blackstone’s chairman Stephen Schwarzman.

Foxconn Technology’s founder Terry Gou, Li & Fung’s honorary chairman Victor Fung, Temasek Holdings’ chief executive Ho Ching, Tencent Holdings’ founder Pony Ma Huateng, Baidu’s chairman Robin Li Yanhong and Alibaba Group Holdings’ chairman Jack Ma Yun are also members of the board.

The meeting comes at a particularly key time for Apple as it prepares to launch its much-anticipated iPhone X, amid hopes the anniversary smartphone can revive the firm’s shrinking sales in the world’s largest phone market.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg has also been very active in China, eager to get his social network unblocked in China, where it has been banned since 2009. The world’s largest social media network finds itself playing catch up with Tencent’s WeChat service, known as Weixin in mainland China, which already has 938 million users who rely on it everyday for everything from chatting to exchanging spreadsheets to hailing rides and pay for utilities.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg marks ‘personal milestone’ after minute-long chat in Mandarin with Xi Jinping

An Apple spokeswoman said the firm couldn’t “comment on Tim’s schedule and or meetings”. Facebook confirmed Zuckerberg was in Beijing, but declined to comment on details of his visit.

In a post on his Facebook page on Saturday, Zuckerberg wrote he was in Beijing for the annual meeting. “Every year this trip is a great way to keep up with the pace of innovation and entrepreneurship in China,” he said.

The Chinese president was ambiguous in response, citing a proverb that can be translated into “goodwill remains even if a deal is not done,” that could as easily apply to Sino-US trade, as with Facebook’s application to roll out its full service in China.

With additional reporting by Reuters