Xi says ‘without reform’ no progress for business in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a U.S.-China business roundtable, comprised of U.S. and Chinese CEOs, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool)

SEATTLE — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday addressed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, billionaire investor Warren Buffett and other top American and Chinese business leaders, vowing that his country would work to remove barriers to foreign investment and improve intellectual property protections.

Xi’s conference with the business leaders in Seattle marked the beginning of a busy day. He also toured the Boeing production facility in Everett and was to visit the Microsoft campus along with a high school in Tacoma.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Jack Ma of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also were among the 30 executives who attended a closed-door discussion moderated by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that preceded Xi’s address.

Xi told the group in a speech that was open to media that China’s economy has “big potential” and leaders will continue to remove barriers to foreign investment.

“Without reform, there will be no driving force; without opening up, there will be no progress,” Xi said through an interpreter, echoing remarks he made during a speech Tuesday. “There is good news and I believe there will be more good news in the future.”

Xi attributed the Chinese economy’s “moderation in speed and downward pressure with some ups and downs in the stock market” to three factors — world economic problems, proactive Chinese efforts at regulation and “protracted structural problems” in China.

But, he said, “I believe in the long run that the fundamentals of the Chinese economy are good.”

A big item of concern for the American CEOs was a treaty that would provide a framework for broader investment in the economy of each nation.

All of the American CEOs participating in the forum signed a letter to Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama urging them to support an agreement, and they heard encouraging words from Xi on the topic Wednesday.

“Once concluded, the treaty will further ease market access and put in place more open and transparent market rules,” he said.

Bilateral investment treaties provide rules for companies doing business in other countries. The agreements can help ensure the rights of foreign investors are protected and that foreign companies operate on a level playing field with domestic ones.

An agreement with China could open up more of that nation’s massive market to American companies, provide clearer rules for Chinese investment in the U.S., and create jobs in both countries, supporters say.

Such treaties “can be a powerful catalyst for more economic growth,” said Evan Feigenbaum, vice chairman of the Paulson Institute, which co-hosted the meeting.

Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google were notably missing from the event. China blocks those companies’ websites.

Earlier Wednesday it was announced that Chinese companies have agreed to buy 300 jets from Boeing.

In addition, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China signed a cooperation agreement with the aerospace giant to build a 737 aircraft assembly center in China.

Xi arrived in Seattle on Tuesday for a three-day visit before he heads to the White House later this week.

In the speech Tuesday, Xi told dignitaries such as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker that reaching agreements to ensure robust international trade was a priority.

“China will never close its open door to the outside world,” Xi said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said the two nations have a long way to go in negotiating a treaty but had agreed to narrow their respective lists of sectors that would be exempted from foreign investment by this month.

Xi also said China and the U.S. could work together to address cybercrimes, a problem that has sparked mutual tension. He said China was a staunch defender of cybersecurity and also had been a victim of hacking.

Acknowledging that the countries don’t always see eye to eye, Xi said China is ready to set up a joint effort to fight cybercrimes.

American officials say hacking attacks originating from China are approaching epidemic levels.

A meeting Tuesday with governors from five U.S. states and local Chinese officials produced a deal to work on clean energy.

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