Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to America's top business executives Tuesday that Beijing will treat them fairly, reminding them he supported Disney's soon-to-open park in Shanghai years ago.
Speaking to a room full of the who's who of American and Chinese business leaders on the second day of his US visit, Xi said the Chinese economy will continue to grow strongly and offer huge opportunities to American investors.
But, with Alibaba's Jack Ma sitting on his left and Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg to his right, Xi also pushed for some quid pro quo from his American hosts to help Chinese firms expand in the United States.
At a mostly closed meeting with 30 Chinese and US CEOs, Xi continued to stress the core message of his visit: that commercial ties between the two countries are essential, and that US businesses need China and should trust him to advance reforms.
As if to echo his message, as he spoke Boeing announced it had won a record deal to sell $38 billion worth of aircraft to China, and would set up a livery plant in the country.
Among the attendees to hear Xi's message were the heads of General Motors, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway on the US side, and Wanxiang, TenCent, Haier, Baidu and Cosco on the Chinese side.
Discussions at the forum organized by the Paulson Institute think-tank on US-China relations, covered US corporate complaints such as an uneven playing field for their China investments, unclear and excessive regulations and lack of protection for intellectual property rights (IPR).
- 'Open up wider' -
Xi stressed that the rapidly developing Chinese economy needed foreign businesses, saying he was determined to reform regulations that hamper them.
"In the long run the fundamentals of the Chinese economy are good," he stressed, saying the current economic slump is manageable.
He noted that China last year became the largest recipient of foreign direct investment, $128.5 billion worth, and that its growing population would need more goods and services, from cars to tourism, in the years to come, including those from US companies.
"China will open up still wider to the outside world: without reform there will be no driving force, without opening up there will be no progress," he said.
"We will continue to build a law-based business environment, an open environment. We will stand firm to protect IPR."
Recalling the genesis of Walt Disney Co.'s Shanghai theme park in the late 2000s, Xi said other officials were pushing for a more Chinese culture-based project.
"I voted yes for Disney," he recounted, "because China needs a diverse-culture-based entertainment market."
Noting that Chinese companies will invest $1.25 trillion outside the country over the next 10 years, Xi underscored their importance to the US economy, as the employers of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Some 100 Chinese companies have invested in the depressed economy of Detroit, he noted, before voicing an often-made request for a loosening of US import restrictions.
"Chinese companies also hope to see substantive steps by the US to ease restrictions on exports of civilian high-tech items to China, and create a level playing field for Chinese investment in the US.
"We count on the US business community to play your positive role and help make this a reality."