Bill Gates Meets “Old Friend” Xi Jinping – And Donates $50 Million To Tsinghua & Beijing In Infectious Disease Research

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Jun 18 2023
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Beijing on Sunday (June 18) with little expectation that the planet’s two largest economies could ease the heightened tension. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the visit, but did not provide details on specific meetings – suggesting the insignificance of Blinken’s trip to the Chinese government.


The trip was supposed to happen 4 months ago, but was postponed after a controversial Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the United States. Even then, Beijing had not actually confirmed Blinken’s trip to China in February. Likewise, it’s unknown whether President Xi Jinping will spare some time to meet with Blinken now due to hostility between both nations.


The fact that Washington proactively sent its Secretary of State to Beijing also means the U.S. is trying to prevent the relationship from deteriorating further, despite the Biden administration’s rhetoric of rallying allies to go to “war” – economically and politically – with China. Refused to be intimidated, president Xi announced that the Chinese military is preparing for war with the West.

Bill Gates Meets Xi Jinping

However, the Chinese treatment of American business leaders has been the opposite. At a one-on-one meeting on Friday, Xi Jinping warmly greeted and told Bill Gates – “I am very happy to see you. We haven’t seen each other for more than three years … and you are an old friend of ours.” Gates’ trip to China was his first return to China since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The co-founder of Microsoft tweeted – “I’ve just landed in Beijing for the first time since 2019, where I’m excited to visit with partners who have been working on global health and development challenges with @gatesfoundation for more than 15 years.” A day before meeting Xi, Gates Foundation pledged US$50 million in a research partnership with the Beijing Municipal Government and Tsinghua University.

Since his departure from Microsoft in 2020, but remains its largest shareholder, Bill Gates has devoted most of his time to his philanthropic non-profit – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Beijing will match the American billionaire foundation’s US$50 million, and the funds will be used over five years for drug and infectious disease research.

Bill Gates at GHDDI Speech Event 

Delivering his speech at the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI) in Beijing, Mr Gates said – “It’s been a long time since I was in China – four years. The world looked very different then. The need to meaningfully address these challenges has never been more urgent”. Interestingly, the GHDDI was jointly founded by the Gates Foundation, Tsinghua University and the Beijing Municipal Government in 2016.


Xi’s relationship with Gates goes back many years. The Chinese president even wrote a letter in reply to Bill Gates on Feb 2020, expressing appreciation for the Gates Foundation’s US$5 million emergency Covid-19 funding. In addition, the foundation pledged US$100 million, part of which to help China accelerate the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

And like three years ago, when Gates commended and supported China for the strong epidemic response, the Microsoft billionaire has again praised China. He said at the GHDDI – “China has made significant gains reducing poverty and improving health outcomes within China. I’m hopeful China can play an even bigger role in addressing the current challenges, particularly those facing African countries”.

Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University, the top university with an acceptance rate of only 2%, will support the GHDDI in areas such as building and sharing research platforms, translating research discoveries and developing talent. Gates said – “Chinese innovators have an important role to play in these global partnerships. China has invaluable experience to share from its own successes in health, agriculture, nutrition and poverty reduction.”


GHDDI primarily focuses on developing new drugs for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, which have a significant impact on women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS, and other vulnerable populations in the poorest countries. But what makes Bill Gates believes China is able to address a resurgence of infectious diseases?


In the 1950s, China had at least 30 million malaria cases and more than 300,000 malaria deaths each year. But cases and deaths began to drop steadily, thanks partly to Chinese scientists. Hence, Gates called Chinese researchers “brilliant”. In addition, over the past 40 years, China has lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty accounting for more than 75% of global poverty.

Bill Gates Meets Xi Jinping - Chatting

According to state-run People’s Daily, President Xi told billionaire Gates – “You are the first American friend I have met in Beijing this year”. Indeed, while truckloads of American business leaders and tech tycoons have scrambled to China after the country lifted its strict “Zero Covid” border closures in January, no magnate besides Gates has met one-on-one with the Chinese president.


Tesla CEO Elon Musk was given red carpet the moment he arrived in Beijing in his private jet on May 30, 2023. However, despite Musk’s close relationship with Beijing, he only managed to meet with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang and China’s vice premier Ding Xuexiang. Musk’s trip to China, his first in over 3 years since the pandemic, was a deliberate move to send a message to Washington.


During his 3-day visit to China, not only Musk praised the Chinese people and China’s technological achievements, but said Tesla opposes “decoupling” and is willing to continue to expand its business in China. The owner of rockets and spacecraft company SpaceX also said that the China space programme is “far more advanced” than most people realize.

Elon Musk Visit Tesla Shanghai - May 2023

But Musk, the world’s richest man with a net worth of US$192 billion, isn’t the only American businessman who has publicly rejected decoupling from China. JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon said his company will be in China in both good and bad times. The largest bank in the U.S. and the world’s largest bank by market capitalization said it remains committed to doing business in China.


In fact, Dimon doesn’t foresee a decoupling between the West and China. Like Musk, he was in Shanghai for JPMorgan conferences when he predicted that “over time there’ll be less trade” between the U.S. and China, but “it won’t be a decoupling, and the world will go on.” Dimon also said he had “enormous respect for the Chinese people,” acknowledging the country’s “extraordinary” development.


The importance of China to U.S. companies can be seen with a steady flow of visits to the mainland from CEOs from multinational companies like Pfizer, Starbucks, Jardine Matheson, Franklin Templeton and UK chip software giant Arm Ltd. Other CEOs who have recently traveled to China include Apple’s Tim Cook, Intel’s Pat Gelsinger, Nvidia’s Jensen Huang, Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider and Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Obviously, it will be a humiliation if Blinken, the highest-level American official to visit China since Joe Biden became U.S. president in January 2021, fails to meet with the Chinese president. Already, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang greeted Blinken and his group at the door to a villa in the grounds of Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House, rather than inside the building as is customary.


While the U.S. did not expect any major breakthrough, it hopes Blinken’s visit will pave the way for more bilateral meetings between Washington and Beijing in coming months, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Washington also hopes meeting between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden could happen later in the year.


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