Top business leaders in the U.S. meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco, California on Nov. 15, 2023.
Eamon Javers, CNBC Correspondent
Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla chief Elon Musk and Blackrock’s Steve Schwarzman were among the guests Wednesday night at a gala reception and dinner in San Francisco for visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the dinner followed Xi’s daylong summit with President Joe Biden, which Biden called “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”
The dinner with Xi was a hot ticket for CEOs of America’s most prominent companies, a chance to rub elbows with high-ranking government ministers of a country that did nearly $760 billion worth of trade with the United States last year.
On the guest list: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Boeing CEO Stan Deal, FedEx CEO Raj Subramaniam, Visa chief Ryan McInerney, Bridgewater Associates’ Ray Dalio, Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, Mastercard chair Merit Janow, and BlackRock‘s Larry Fink.
The Biden administration was represented by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, and Kurt Campbell, a top White House China advisor. San Francisco Mayor London Breed also had a spot at the head table.
According to the place cards, Cook was seated next to Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao. Event organizers said Musk attended the VIP reception, but did not stay for the dinner.
In remarks before the meal, Raimondo emphasized how much opportunity remains in the U.S.-China economic relationship.
“All of you here this evening remain keenly interested to do business in China, and to find ways to advance our bilateral economic relationship,” Raimondo said. “I know that, because half of you have come to see me to tell me that.”
Partners or adversaries?
Xi delivered the keynote address, his most expansive remarks so far in his U.S. visit. He used the speech to present a view of the U.S.-China relationship that differs significantly from Biden’s.
“The number one question for us is, are we adversaries or partners?” Xi asked.
“If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, the most consequential geopolitical challenge, and a pacing threat, it will only lead to misinformed policymaking, misguided actions and unwanted results,” said Xi.
It was not lost on the room that Biden has described China in each of those terms in the past.
Instead of adversaries, Xi emphasized that China wants a partnership with the United States, a “win-win” relationship.
As part of his overall outreach message, Xi announced that China will be sending pandas to the San Diego Zoo, after three of the bears were recently returned to China from Washington’s Smithsonian National Zoo.
“Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people,” he said.
“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians, so as to deepen friendly ties between our two peoples.”