3:19 pm - Tuesday November 3, 2015

On US visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to reassure on trade, security

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) begins talks with a local delegation of officials in Seattle, Washington, September 22, 2015.  REUTERS/ John Lok /Pool
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) begins talks with a local delegation of officials in Seattle, Washington, September 22, 2015. REUTERS/ John Lok /Pool

Chinese President Xi Jinping, facing a skeptical audience on the first day of a week-long U.S. visit, sought to reassure business and government officials on Tuesday over a long list of irritants, from economic reform to cyber attacks, human rights and commercial theft.

Xi, delivering a keynote address to some 650 business executives and other guests in Seattle, touched on a litany of issues that have strained U.S.-China ties.

China will not manipulate its currency to boost exports and will never engage in commercial theft, he said, adding it will not discriminate against foreign businesses, will speed its market opening and make efforts to improve human rights.

“If China and the U.S. cooperate well, they can become a bedrock of global stability…,” Xi said. “Should they enter into conflict or confrontation, it would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large.”

However, despite his reassuring comments, Xi faces questions about actual government policies. He will likely be pressed for specifics as he meets this week with tech and other top business leaders before attending a black-tie state dinner at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama.

About 100 people gathered in downtown Seattle earlier on Tuesday to protest against human rights abuses in China, the first of what could be a series of demonstrations against Xi’s visit.

Xi’s U.S. visit ends with an address at the United Nations.

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Xi came under a barrage of criticism before his speech over China’s treatment of U.S. businesses operating in his country.

“This week a number of significant deals are being announced alongside President Xi’s visit that exemplify American companies’ commitment to support China’s development both with capital and with world-class technologies,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

“Nevertheless, we and our companies continue to have serious concerns about an overall lack of legal and regulatory transparency, inconsistent protection of intellectual property, discriminatory cyber and technology policies, and more generally the lack of a level playing field across a range of sectors.”

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John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, a co-sponsor of Tuesday’s event, said the group’s latest survey of its members “shows a continued steady erosion of confidence in the China business outlook.”

Writing in an article in China Business Review before Xi arrived, Frisbie said: “China’s ambitious economic reform program is entering its third year, but with little impact so far on the issues faced by American companies — put simply, China has yet to begin removing market-access barriers across many sectors of China’s economy and build a fairer competitive environment. Business is looking for tangible signals of reforms, but not getting it.”

Scott Kennedy, Director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., praised Xi’s strategy.

“Xi played a very good hand,” Kennedy said. “He gave comprehensive verbal reassurance combined with limited actual concessions. This will avoid full-blown reaction from the U.S. government and the business community.”

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