One of the American executives who plans to attend a dinner with Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this week said he hopes the U.S. and China will use a high-stakes summit in San Francisco to affirm their business ties despite tensions over technology and other issues.
“It’s too important for both economies to have anything other than alignment on certain principles around the movement of trade, lack of protectionism,” Kevin Ali, CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Organon, told Semafor in an interview. “With these two economies at loggerheads on certain issues, it’s not good for the world. … That is the issue.”
Ali is one of three co-chairs for the Asia-Pacific Economic Council CEO summit, which kicks off Wednesday in San Francisco with a star-studded roster of executives and government officials. President Joe Biden and Xi will separately meet on the sidelines of APEC on Wednesday. The White House has sought to keep expectations low for the meeting.
Ali said he hoped to use the summit and surrounding APEC events to help accelerate work on public-private partnerships in healthcare and specifically women’s health, which is a focus of Organon.
At the dinner with Xi later this week, Ali said he would convey that there are “mutually beneficial aims” of private industries like his own and the Chinese government. He mentioned fertility as a potential area of mutual work (China’s fertility rate hit a record low last year).
The dinner with Xi attracted plenty of attention from executives despite sky-high tensions between the U.S. and China and criticism of Xi’s government in Washington. Bloomberg reported that executives were “scrambling for seats or to be put on a waiting list.” The tickets are said to cost thousands of dollars, according to the New York Times.
Still, the schmoozing at APEC will interrupt what is a challenging and uncertain time for U.S. businesses and other firms operating in China. China has raided some foreign firms and even detained employees. Xi is likely to face some pressure to clarify China’s laws and assure executives that China welcomes their business.
Executives are also facing some criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill for dining with Xi. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who chairs the House select committee on China, wrote to leaders of the organizations hosting the event — the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations — eviscerating them for selling tickets to a dinner with Chinese officials “who have facilitated a genocide against millions of innocent men, women, and children in Xinjiang.”
“Those industry executives should not be fooled by celebratory toasts and promises of future cooperation,” wrote Gallagher, who has called for “selectively decoupling” the U.S. from China. “Executives must recognize that the reality of doing business in China today includes the increased risk of arbitrary detentions, exit bans, and raids by the Chinese intelligence services.”