As essentially the most highly effective Chinese language chief in generations, Xi Jinping hardly ever bothers to glad-hand or to strive charming a crowd. His public appearances in China are rigorously crafted, with fawning cadres and adoring followers positioned round him.
So when Mr. Xi landed in San Francisco this week to satisfy with President Biden, to attempt to stabilize a relationship with the US that has been spiraling downward, it supplied a uncommon alternative to see the Chinese language chief up shut and, at occasions, much less filtered than typical.
There have been a couple of moments when Mr. Xi turned animated — or the closest he will get to it — like when a gaggle of Iowans he had met within the Eighties got here by way of the receiving line at a gala dinner in San Francisco on Wednesday night time. Mr. Xi’s face lit up as he greeted the person who had pushed him round rural Iowa, when Mr. Xi was a younger occasion official from Hebei province hoping to glean insights into America’s agricultural expertise.
Earlier, the Chinese language chief had in contrast presidential limousines with Mr. Biden as they met on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Financial Cooperation summit. And he thanked Mr. Biden for reminding him that his spouse, Peng Liyuan, a well-known Chinese language soprano and people singer, has a birthday on Monday, as does Mr. Biden.
Mr. Xi stated he had forgotten as a result of he had been working so arduous.
It was hardly a rare efficiency for an strange politician, and even previous Chinese language leaders, however Mr. Xi’s look on the APEC summit was putting for one of the crucial self-contained Chinese language leaders in many years. He reveals subsequent to nothing about his private life, regardless of propaganda organs busily casting him as a person of the individuals.
The secrecy surrounding Mr. Xi has solely grown extra intense as he has concentrated his energy by jailing and retiring political rivals and taking larger management of the civil authorities and the army.
Behind the scenes, throughout 4 hours of talks with Mr. Biden and an array of his nationwide safety and financial aides, Mr. Xi was usually managed and cautious, contributors stated. They reported that he spoke fluently on the subjects which have divided Beijing and Washington however turned to his notes, and saved to script, when the topic turned to Ukraine or the turmoil within the Center East.
None of what the Individuals noticed essentially modified their view of Mr. Xi — a Chinese language chief with management over his feelings and an iron grip on his nation.
He didn’t don a cowboy hat the best way Deng Xiaoping did in Texas in 1979, or come bearing a stuffed panda for a 2-year outdated, the best way Jiang Zemin did on the similar APEC summit, in Seattle, three many years in the past. At that summit, Mr. Jiang took intensive questions from American reporters; Mr. Xi took none, leaving Mr. Biden to reply questions concerning the summit assembly alone. As a substitute of talking at one other scheduled look, Mr. Xi submitted a written speech as a substitute.
Nonetheless, the summit was a second Mr. Xi had ready for over the previous 5 months, after remaining largely out of sight to American officers, save for his one earlier assembly with Mr. Biden, in Bali, final 12 months. This summer time he started receiving a collection of American officers, beginning with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
He invited Henry Kissinger, the previous secretary of state, for a go to to commemorate Mr. Kissinger’s one hundredth birthday — and ran a five-hour celebration, clearly meant to ship the message that the US’ opening to China, which Mr. Kissinger helped engineer, represented a golden period that ought to be reproduced.
All of this has led to a tonal change within the relationship; when Mr. Xi repeated his line that the planet was large enough for each nations, he was signaling that the 2 army, financial and technological superpowers may give one another some house.
However there have been additionally hints of how his elementary views stay unchanged, particularly about the US. Mr. Biden talks a few constructive competitors between the 2 nations, telling reporters that “my duty is to make this rational and manageable, so it doesn’t end in battle, that’s what I’m all about.”
Mr. Xi has all the time rejected the idea of a managed competitors between the 2 nations.
“The No. 1 query for us is, are we adversaries or companions?” Mr. Xi stated. “That is the basic and overarching challenge.”
However Mr. Xi’s phrases could also be much less essential than the imagery.
After his summit with Mr. Biden, the 70-year-old Chinese language chief attended the gala dinner in San Francisco with American enterprise executives, who he hopes will assist stem the movement of overseas corporations transferring their investments out of China.
Mr. Xi mingled with the attendees, together with Elon Musk of Tesla (who stayed just for cocktails), Tim Prepare dinner of Apple and his former Iowa hosts.
Some attendees stated the dinner was an try by the Chinese language to succeed in out to the American enterprise neighborhood — and across the U.S. authorities, which has imposed sanctions on quite a few Chinese language companies and tightly restricted China’s use of U.S. chip expertise.
After arriving, Mr. Xi stopped right into a V.I.P. reception, then he and different high Chinese language officers shaped a receiving line in a resort ballroom, the place he shook palms and took photos with friends.
For dinner, Mr. Xi sat at a protracted desk close to the pinnacle of the ballroom, flanked by Evan Greenberg, the chief government of Chubb, and Mark Casper, the chief government of Thermo Fisher Scientific, each members of the China-focused teams that hosted the dinner.
“Xi practiced retail politics final night time in ways in which few Chinese language leaders usually do,” Ryan Hass, a former China director for the Nationwide Safety Council who attended the dinner, stated on Thursday.
In his speech, Mr. Xi caught principally to pleasant subjects, evaluating the U.S.-Chinese language relationship to a tree that had “grown tall and robust,” and dangling the prospect of dispatching extra large pandas to California as “envoys of friendship.”
Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor at Cornell College, stated Xi had spoken with equanimity and a contact of heat, however the speech had a double edge: It invoked “the historical past of pleasant ties between American and Chinese language individuals to warn in opposition to treating China as an adversary,” she stated.
The speech “felt like a little bit of an outstretched hand,” Mr. Hass stated, probably reflecting the curiosity of Chinese language leaders in rebuilding connections with the enterprise neighborhood. “There have been a number of hard-edged factors within the locations you’d anticipate them, however the general tone of the speech appeared designed to attempt to decrease the temperature of stress within the relationship.”
The dinner itself was a polarizing affair, with critics of Mr. Xi saying it was shameful for American enterprise leaders to spend as much as $40,000 for a desk on the occasion and be seen giving Mr. Xi a number of standing ovations.
One attendee who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to the backlash stated Mr. Xi appeared animated in dialog at his desk.
His demeanor was a far cry from former Chinese language leaders such because the showmanlike Mr. Jiang, who as soon as performed a metal lap guitar at a dinner in Hawaii. However the attendee famous that Mr. Xi, who is just not identified for being jovial, smiled typically.
Olivia Wang contributed reporting.