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Xi says China seeks to be friends with US, won’t fight ‘hot war’

China's President Xi Jinping speaks at the "Senior Chinese Leader Event" held by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Week in San Francisco, on Nov. 15, 2023. (Carlos Barria/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
November 17, 2023

President Xi Jinping said China wants to be friends with the U.S. and said his nation won’t fight a war with anyone, one of his clearest remarks yet proclaiming a desire for peaceful ties between the world’s two largest economies.

In a speech to business executives in San Francisco shortly after meeting U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Xi said China “never bets against the United States” and “has no intention to challenge the United States or to unseat it.”

“Whatever stage of development it may reach, China will never pursue hegemony or expansion, and will never impose its will on others,” Xi said. “China does not seek spheres of influence and will not fight a cold war or a hot war with anyone.”

The comments came hours after the two leaders emerged from their first meeting together in a year, where they hashed out a handful of deals to try to address the fentanyl crisis, restore high-level military communications and open a dialogue over artificial intelligence. Biden had earlier hailed the talks as “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”

In his speech, Xi sought to address broader concerns in the U.S. that China posed a threat to American dominance around the globe, both economically and militarily. Tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea have escalated in recent years, raising the risk that tensions over tariffs and export controls would lead to a direct conflict.

Xi stressed the similarities between Americans and Chinese, recalling his time in Iowa nearly four decades ago — long before he ascended to the presidency and became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Xi also indicated that China will once again send pandas to American zoos, resuming a “panda diplomacy” program symbolic of stable relations that appeared to be ending this year.

“We’ll be glad to see a confident, open, ever-growing and prosperous U.S.,” Xi said. “Likewise, the United States should not bet against China, or interfere in China’s internal affairs. We should instead welcome a peaceful, stable and prosperous China.”

Investors Skeptical

Those in the room with Xi on Wednesday largely took his remarks to mean that the business environment may improve.

“What I think President Xi did in this speech is attempt to reach out to U.S. businesses and say we are prepared to be constructive,” said Stephen Orlins, the president of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations which co-hosted the dinner. He said in an interview with Bloomberg TV that the remarks seemed like a recognition by Chinese leadership that a drop in foreign direct investment in the country “is partly based on Chinese policies.”

“This was a signal from the top to begin to do it better and attract FDI,” Orlins added.

At the event, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk told the official Xinhua News Agency that he was “full of hope” for the development of U.S.-China relations, adding in an interview with the state media outlet that he hoped that the two nations “can work together to promote regional prosperity.”

Investors remained skeptical, with Chinese stocks sliding as traders trimmed positions after the much-anticipated meeting yielded an outcome that was largely in line with expectations. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index finished Thursday down 1.4%, among the worst performers in Asia.

The two leaders are working to normalize ties between their nations at a critical inflection point in their relationship. Tensions have run high in the last year after the Pentagon shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon, and as Washington and Beijing clash over everything from national security and technology to Taiwan.

“The number one question for us is, are we adversaries or partners?” Xi said, referring to U.S.-China ties. “If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, the most consequential geopolitical challenge and the pacing threat, it will only lead to misinformed policy making, misguided actions and unwanted results.”

The evening also put Xi at the table with some of the world’s most important business leaders, offering him a chance to talk up China at a time when its post-pandemic reopening has failed to spur the level of global growth many had hoped it would deliver.

Beijing has stepped up efforts to attract foreign investors this year, pledging again this week to strengthen policies to attract overseas capital. But its tightening of national security controls and state messaging that foreign actors pose spy risks — along with years of policy crackdowns — have left some skeptical.

The event hasn’t all been warm words. At the conclusion of his press conference Wednesday after the meeting, Biden said he still believed his Chinese counterpart was a dictator, casting a shadow over the talks.


© 2023 Bloomberg L.P

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