Chinese president woos big business as US visit begins

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Chinese president woos big business as US visit begins By Paul HANDLEY Seattle (AFP) Sept 22, 2015 Xi likens Chinese economy to 'large ship' ahead of US visit: WSJ Beijing (AFP) Sept 22, 2015 - President Xi Jinping compared China's economy to a giant ship sailing in stormy seas, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, but Xi was confident it was moving in the right direction.
Xi, who begins his first state visit to the United States later Tuesday, said a long-term view was essential to understanding the world's second-largest economy as he seeks to ease global worries over its performance.
"If you liken it to a large ship on the sea, the question you ask is whether it is sailing in the right direction, does it have sufficient engine power and energy to stay long," he said, part of lengthy written responses to questions submitted by the newspaper.
"Any ship, however large, may occasionally get unstable sailing on the high sea," he said, adding he was confident investor confidence would be restored.
"Against the overall global economic backdrop, many countries have encountered difficulties," he said. "The Chinese economy is also under a downward pressure. But it is a problem in the course of progress."
Concerns over how much China's economic growth is slowing have helped fan domestic and global stock market volatility and raised questions over the ability of Xi and other top leaders to manage a delicate transition to a consumer-focused economic model.
China's economy expanded 7.3 percent last year, the weakest pace since 1990, and slowed further to 7.0 percent in each of the first two quarters this year.
Data generally regarded as weak in the current third quarter have raised alarm bells over the extent of the slowdown, which has serious implications for the global economy.
"The Chinese economy is still operating within the proper range," Xi said.
He also defended government actions to prop up plunging share markets, widely seen by analysts as having failed.
"The Chinese government has taken some measures to defuse systemic risks," he said. "Such steps have proved successful."
- Freedom is order -
The Wall Street Journal submitted its questions to China's foreign ministry and officials "pulled together facts and research for the answers", the paper said, before Xi "revised and reviewed them".
Days after presiding over a huge military parade in Beijing, Xi reiterated that China and its rising defence capabilities -- including anti-ship ballistic missiles -- do not pose a regional or global threat.
He also explicitly denied foreign allegations that Beijing steals corporate information online "in any form", or encouraged Chinese companies to do so.
"Cybertheft of commercial secrets and hacking attacks against government networks are both illegal; such acts are criminal offences and should be punished according to law and relevant international conventions."
Asked about Chinese restrictions on the Internet as well as a proposed law to restrict foreign non-profit organisations, Xi emphasised the need to balance the flow of information with legal norms.
"Freedom and order must be upheld side by side in both cyberspace and the physical world," he said. "Freedom is the purpose of order, and order the guarantee of freedom."
Chinese leaders stress the importance of social stability over individual rights in a nation of 1.37 billion, whereas the latter is a US founding principle.
Quoting the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius -- "It's only natural for things to be different" -- Xi suggested that differences must be accepted.
"With so much difference in ethnicity, history, culture, religion, social system, development level and lifestyle, there are things about others that one may find hard to understand."
Chinese President Xi Jinping began his first state visit to the United States on Tuesday in the West Coast hub of Seattle, aiming to woo American businesses and take the edge off a leery White House view of the Asian giant.
Xi will set the tone of his visit in meetings and a keynote speech to leaders of states such as Washington that do substantial business with China, as well as the heads of top companies with huge China interests such as Boeing and Microsoft.
With the Obama administration increasingly at odds with Beijing over its territorial claims in the South China Sea, cyber theft of US business secrets and alleged discriminatory business practices against US investors in China, Xi could have his best chance to clear some air while in Seattle.
But he also has to balance that with a demonstration to the public back home that the United States takes his country seriously as an equal among global superpowers.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, Xi depicted China and the United States leading the world shoulder-to-shoulder, with both common and competing interests.
"Together, China and the United States account for one-third of the world economy, one-fourth of the global population, and one-fifth of global trade," he said.
"If two big countries like ours do not cooperate with each other, just imagine what will happen to the world."
- CEO charm offensive -
Xi's speech in Seattle later Tuesday will be his only major policy address while in the United States.
He will follow that with a roundtable meeting early Wednesday of top US and Chinese corporate chieftains aiming to underscore the centrality -- to Beijing, at least -- of trade and investment to the relationship, while downplaying political issues.
He will also make trips to Boeing and Microsoft, as well as a Seattle high school he visited years ago as a lower-level official.
In lavishing attention on Seattle, he follows in the footsteps of three other Chinese presidents: Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
"We know the value of international trade and we know the value of exports to China and how many thousands of good-paying jobs it supports here in the state of Washington," Gary Locke, a former Washington governor and ex-US ambassador to China, told AFP.
- 'Meeting is the message' -
With little hope of settling major political differences during a summit later this week with President Barack Obama, in Seattle "the meeting is the message," said Christopher Johnson, a former CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While few doubt Xi's power in China and his determination to elevate its status on the global stage, he nevertheless has to convince his hosts -- and the politicians running in the 2016 presidential election -- that he can work with them.
US businesses are worried about Beijing's increased support for its own companies when they compete head-to-head with American investors.
And many are concerned that Beijing does not have a firm hand on the sudden downturn of its economy, which has fueled turmoil in global financial markets.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, Xi stressed the temporary nature of China's downturn, likening it to a large ship sailing in stormy seas, and insisted the country was moving forward quickly with needed, market-oriented reforms.
"We give equal and fair treatment to all market players, including foreign-invested companies in China," he also insisted.
The stealing of US business secrets by Chinese hackers will be a top issue in Seattle and in the US capital.
The Obama administration is reportedly weighing placing punitive sanctions on some top Chinese officials to get Beijing to take action over the problem.
Showing that it is now taking that issue seriously, earlier this month one of China's most senior security officials, Meng Jianzhu, came to Washington to discuss it with the White House.
In his interview, Xi argued that cybersecurity is an equal concern for Chinese and American companies, and that Beijing does not support cybertheft.
"The Chinese government does not engage in theft of commercial secrets in any form, nor does it encourage or support Chinese companies to engage in such practices in any way," he said.
Xi will also have to be careful not to supply more ammunition to US politicians, especially those in the 2016 White House race, who see bashing China as an easy way to sound tough to American voters.
Human rights -- especially China's tough new national security law being used to crack down on political and social dissent -- will be in focus.
The White House on Tuesday will host non-governmental groups likely to be hit by tough new Chinese security laws that one US official said has them worried about their long-term presence in the country. Everything from universities to rights groups would be affected should the draft law go into force.
The visit has already come under a minor cloud after news that a US businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, has been held by Chinese security officials for six months over alleged espionage, according to her supporters.
From Washington, Xi heads to New York to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.
Top Obama aide hosts NGOs before Xi visit Washington (AFP) Sept 22, 2015 - White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Tuesday hosted US non-governmental groups likely to be hit by tough new Chinese security laws, a high-profile statement of concern ahead of Xi Jinping's state visit.
Rice met several representatives from among the universities, businesses and rights groups who would be forced to register and report to the security services if the draft law enters into force.
Sources familiar with Rice's talks said the meeting took place at the White House and included some organizations that receive US government grants.
The controversial draft law looks set to be another major area of contention when Xi Jinping meets President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday, for a summit designed to strengthen ties.
Describing the draft law as "deeply troubling" and its impact as "very unfortunate," a senior administration official told AFP that Obama would raise the issue.
"I think the president will make that clear," the official said.
"We are going find some opportunities to speak out on that issue and also find an opportunity to meet some of the stakeholders involved."
The Obama-Xi summit has already been beset by arguments over cyber hacking and China's increasingly assertive land grabs in the South China Sea.
"Our concern with the law is profound," said the official.
"First of all it is very broad, it gives a huge role to the ministry of public security, not the ministry of civil affairs that used to manage these groups."
"I have heard a number of these groups saying that they are having to question whether they will remain in China, whether they will curtail their activities in China or whether they will cancel plans to establish a presence in China."
"What I am talking about here are groups that have for decades made a tremendous contribution to China's own development and to the development of US-China bilateral relations -- I'm talking about foundations, business associations, universities."
- Pressure to push back -
Christopher Johnson, a former CIA analyst, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said "there's a lot of pressure on the administration to push back on this, to get the Chinese to change it."
"Take Yale University, for example. They have a presence in China. If in New Haven they choose to host a dissident or the Dalai Lama or something like that, technically under this law the people in China would be subject to arrest."
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Tuesday urged Obama to take a tougher line with Xi.
"The past year alone has been marked by further erosion of rule of law, tightening restrictions on civil society and outright attacks on human rights defenders and political dissidents," he wrote in an opinion article that appeared in the Washington Examiner.
He urged Obama to invite Chinese human rights activists to Xi's state dinner.
"Too often the Obama administration wants credit for 'raising human rights' -- but passing mentions and diminished significance in the broader bilateral agenda provides little solace to the brave men and women who face unimaginable obstacles and hardship for daring to claim their most basic human rights," Rubio wrote.
Xi arrived in Seattle on Tuesday aiming to woo American businesses and take the edge off the White House's wariness of the Asian giant. .