Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Seattle on Tuesday for the first part of a week-long state visit to the United States. Later in the week, Xi will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House. But first, he’ll meet with the CEOs of America’s top companies.
There’s a reason the Chinese president is putting money before politics this week. “This is a signal to the American political establishment that these may be American companies, but they where their bread is buttered right now, and it’s China,” says James McGregor, head of APCO Worldwide’s Greater China office and author of One Billion Customers.
Apple is a good example. In 2009, the company made just 2 percent of its revenue from China. Today, a quarter of the company’s global revenue — more than $46 billion — comes from its business in China. That’s why Apple’s Tim Cook will be among a group of CEOs who will meet president Xi Jinping in Seattle.
But there will be a lot of forced smiles around the table. “It puts a lot of American CEOs in a difficult position because they’re almost like supplicants,” says Shaun Rein, author of The End of Cheap China. “They’re all flying to Seattle to meet with president Xi as if he’s an emperor, and it’s clear that he’s going to dictate to them what opportunities exist for them in China.”
Rein says the business environment for U.S. tech companies in China is the worst he’s seen in 20 years, and the Obama administration has done little to improve the situation. But that may change later this week, when the presidents of the world’s two largest economies meet face-to-face.