Chinese President Xi Jinping called Bill Gates “an old friend” and said he hoped they could cooperate in a way that would benefit both China and the United States, in Xi’s first meeting with a foreign entrepreneur in years.
In a meeting at Beijing’s Diaoyutai state guest house, where China’s leaders have traditionally received senior foreign visitors, Xi said he was very happy to see the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist after three years, and that Gates was the first American friend he had met this year.
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“I often say the foundation of US-China relations lies with its people. I place my hopes on the American people,” a video published by state broadcaster CCTV showed Xi as saying.
“With the current global situation, we can carry out various activities beneficial to our two countries and people, activities that benefit humanity as a whole,” he said.
Xi gave no details but emphasised the potential benefits of cooperation that has been hampered by disputes over human rights, Taiwan, security and technology.
Gates, who arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, said he was “honoured” to have the chance to meet. “We’ve always had great conversations and we’ll have lot of important topics to discuss today … it’s very exciting to be back.”
In a post on his personal blog, Gates said he and Xi had discussed global health and development challenges such as health inequity and climate change.
Xi stopped travelling abroad for nearly three years as China shut its borders during the coronavirus pandemic and his international meetings since the reopening have mostly been with other state leaders.
A number of CEOs have visited China since it reopened early this year, but most have met government ministers.
Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board in 2020 to focus on philanthropy in the fields of global health, education and climate change.
The last reported meeting between Xi and Gates was in 2015, when they met on the sidelines of the Boao forum in Hainan province. In early 2020, Xi wrote to Gates thanking him and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for pledging assistance to China, including $5m for its fight against COVID-19.
Xi also discussed the global rise of artificial intelligence (AI) with Bill Gates and said he welcomed US firms including Microsoft bringing their AI tech to China, two sources familiar with the talks said.
One of the sources said they also discussed Microsoft’s business development in China.
Common development and not hegemony
The mood of the foreign business community towards China has turned more cautious as Sino-US tensions intensify and Xi increases China’s focus on national security.
Gates’ visit comes ahead of a long-delayed trip to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken aimed at stabilising relations between the world’s two largest economies and strategic rivals.
Blinken had a tense call with China’s foreign minister Qin Gang on Wednesday, during which Qin urged the United States to stop meddling in its affairs and harming its security.
During his meeting with Gates, Xi said China would not follow the old path of a “strong country seeking hegemony” but would work with other countries to achieve common development, according to the People’s Daily newspaper. China often accuses the US of pursuing hegemony.
Apart from meeting Xi, Gates gave a speech at the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute about the need to use technology to solve global health challenges during his visit.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Beijing municipal government, which founded the institute with Tsinghua University, also pledged to each provide $50m to bolster the institute’s drug discovery capacity.