Following Xi Jinping’s high-profile trip to the U.S., AmCham Shanghai and USCBC co-hosted a panel discussion on September 29 to provide perspectives on the visit. After a summary of USCBC-hosted events during Xi’s visit to Seattle, three panelists took the stage: Wu Xinbo, professor and executive dean for the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University; Bill Powell, asia editor and chief international correspondent for Newsweek Magazine; and AmCham President Kenneth Jarrett, who served as moderator (and occasional panelist). All agreed that the visit was a success. Panelists singled out Xi’s and Obama’s agreement to cooperate on cyber-security issues and China’s announcement that it would establish a carbon emissions market by 2017 as the major accomplishments of the visit.
USCBC Shanghai Business Manager Owen Haacke began the session with a record of the highlights from the USCBC co-hosted dinner for President Xi in Seattle and the CEO roundtable in which USCBC participated. According to USCBC, the visit was better than expected. Progress was reported on the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), climate change and cyber-security. Haacke stressed that commitment in these areas was important, but follow-through was needed. In the CEO dialogue, issues that were raised included IPR concerns, cyber-security, ending discriminatory treatment of U.S. companies in China, and the need for standardized industry practices.
The panel discussion focused on the outcomes and atmospherics of the Xi visit. Panelists noted that the pre-visit environment was tense, with U.S. political campaigns highlighting a need to be firmer with China on the South China Sea, IPR violation, and cyber-security. Indeed, there was some expectation that U.S. anger over Chinese cyber-theft of U.S. commercial secrets could have caused the trip’s cancellation. Against this backdrop, however, the visit produced significant improvements in key areas. Wu and Powell agreed that Xi Jinping’s condemnation of government cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial uses was a huge step, especially in comparison with previous rhetoric on the topic.
The panelists also viewed the trip as a success because of its give-and-take nature. While China changed its rhetoric surrounding cyber-security, Xinbo believed the U.S. reciprocated similarly with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), viewing it in a slightly more positive light than before. Washington also declared China’s commitment to increased financial contributions to the World Bank and its promises to abide by highest international standards for the AIIB to be “extremely positive”. The U.S. reaffirmed its pledge to include the renminbi as an IMF special drawing rights currency (SDR), as long as the IMF agrees the renminbi meets the right standards.
While the Pope’s visit to the U.S. may have overshadowed President Xi’s visit, Wu noted the differing nature of the two visits – social versus political. Though U.S. media attention surrounding the Pope was significant, the U.S.’s ceremonial welcoming of Xi Jinping, including a 21-gun salute, enforced the gravitas of the visit, particularly in the eyes of Chinese television viewers.
Both panelists praised the success of the climate change agreement as a sign that the U.S. and China do share some common views. In this visit, China agreed to introduce a proposal for a domestic cap and a trade carbon emissions market, and both presidents reaffirmed a strong commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Powell noted that by doing so, Xi is also supporting one of Obama’s primary legacies.
When asked how China and the U.S. can improve their relationship, both panelists highlighted the importance of long-term investment. President Xi has focused on creating positive relations with state governments and multinational corporations, hoping these positive relations can carry influence with new presidential administrations. As many of the agreements reached during this visit are now just words, only time and tangible results will show if the language is matched by real commitment.