US company presidents visit China despite trade war

Such visits were frequent before the pandemic and returned from December after the lifting of COVID-19 health restrictions that isolated China from the rest of the world for three years.

These visits are an opportunity for the leaders of these companies to express in Beijing their optimism about the vast Chinese market and the commercial links between the two largest economies in the world.

Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, declared at the end of May, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that “the interests of the United States and China are intertwined, like twins that cannot be separated”.

In March, Tim Cook confirmed in the Chinese capital that Apple has a “harmonious” relationship with China, which is home to the world’s largest iPhone factory.

And on Friday, in an exceptional step, Chinese President Xi Jinping received Bill Gates, the former boss of Microsoft, for his first visit to China since 2019.

According to the official Xinhua (New China) news agency, Xi described Gates as an “old friend” and received him as one of the co-chairmen of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The visit came amid heightened trade tensions between China and the United States, which did not prevent bilateral trade from hitting a record high of $691 billion last year, according to the department. American of Commerce.

Visit Blinken

American companies are worried about the slowdown in exports to China, which remains the third largest trading partner of the United States. This drop had a significant impact on the technology sector.

In the name of national security, the United States has banned the export of the most advanced semiconductors to China since 2022, as well as the components necessary for their production.

Faced with these constraints, China has accelerated its efforts to achieve semiconductor independence.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics points out that “US exports to China are an additional channel contributing to the deterioration of bilateral relations”.

Many sticking points remain between Beijing and Washington ahead of a much-anticipated visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Beijing this weekend, including on Taiwan and human rights.

The companies have long called for strengthening China-US relations, pointing out that this sometimes encourages economic and political reforms.

But with China increasingly closed politically since Xi came to power a decade ago, that argument has lost steam, marginalizing once very powerful groups.

“These companies are becoming more and more of a minority. The business community is one of the last lifelines contributing to the stability of China-US relations,” said Joe Mazur, analyst at China-based Trivium.

Move to another location

The business community in China will follow Blinken’s visit with great interest.

“American companies have made very large investments in China, have thousands of employees and see China as a promising market,” James Zimmerman, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, told AFP.

But he adds that the US and Chinese governments have “eliminated any cooperation” possible.

The US-China Business Council in charge of promoting bilateral trade, which opposes trade sanctions, feels marginalized by the US Congress, which is increasingly aggressive towards Beijing.

In recent times, Chinese authorities have restricted the possibility of extracting data from the country and have conducted searches in the offices of consulting companies, especially American ones, which have raised concerns.

“The situations are changing, explains Claire Shaw, an analyst at the British intelligence firm Janes. And many companies are saying: ‘Although we have not decided to leave China, we have to start thinking about it’”.

Like Apple, many global giants are reconsidering their reliance on China.

“Ten years ago it was said that you absolutely had to be in China, but today it is more correct to think about a relocation strategy,” explains Zimmerman.

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