Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to California this week to meet with President Biden, but his primary goal was a more influential crowd – the CEOs of America’s top tech and financial companies.
While Biden came away with a vague climate deal, a reopening of military channels and an unlikely promise to reduce the deadly fentanyl imports flooding our streets, CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, BlackRock’s Larry Fink and Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman paid their way to a handshake deal to keep making money in China, despite deep US reservations about Xi’s geo-political intentions.
Xi himself came away the biggest winner, as his audience back home in China watched the business elite of the world’s most important market ignore their own government’s caution to rush to his side for favors. High school kids swarming a pop star.
It’s a testament to the different levels of global priorities that our financial leaders live by than our political ones. Traveling to Saudi Arabia for investment conferences, gathering to break bread with dictators, all in the goal of generating profit while government officials try to uphold the standards of freedom and democracy that separates us from authoritarian regimes.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with making money. But it was odd to witness the competing intentions of Xi’s three, no four audiences in the Bay Area. The CEOs reportedly paid up to $40,000 to dine with him and hear that China was open to their investment. A fine meal at the Hyatt Regency and a little face time.
Biden walked and sat with him for four hours but came away with little more than a temporary respite in an inevitable slide toward conflict. The many protesters who laid siege to San Francisco’s downtown and bridges, complaining about China’s human rights record, climate change, the Palestinians or whatever else, never got close. And the many local Chinese who came to cheer him didn’t come near either. Just the paying CEOs and the reluctant president.
The impact of Xi’s success was felt in the stock market, which celebrated an improvement in both the economies of China and the US recently with a powerful rally, led by tech and financial stocks and the renewable energy companies that might benefit from a renewed effort on combating climate change by both countries.
China is by far the world leader in growing renewable energy capacity, despite its record of being the world’s largest polluter. Its battle with Covid and a slowing economy in the last few years coincided with a bear market in the US.
So in many ways, Xi’s first visit to our shores since he met with former President Trump in Mar-a-Lago in what seems like a lifetime ago, was not only a repairing of bad relations at the diplomatic level, but a coming out party for China on the world business stage after a prolonged hibernation. Xi’s purge of China’s tech sector, and leaders such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma a few years ago, is just a distant memory as far as Apple and Tesla are concerned.
Those shouting for justice and human rights from Xi were drowned out in San Francisco this week. Even the US president himself tried, and largely failed, to put the visit in the context of China’s spying, unfair trade practices and massive pollution. The best he could ever hope for was a brief rapprochement.
But for this select group of CEOs, who see only profit from Xi’s repressive and warlike China, there was the unmistakable smell of opportunity. Whether or not they realized that Xi was the big winner from this week at their expense didn’t really matter.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies