Hot on the heels of Elon Musk’s visit to China earlier this month, the country welcomed another American tech billionaire. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met President Xi Jinping on Friday in Beijing, China’s state media reported.
Like Musk, this is Gates’ first trip to China since the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted his frequent visits to the country where Microsoft has had a presence for two decades.
The goal of the meeting hasn’t been announced publicly, but official media reports will likely follow. A reporter from China’s English state tabloid Global Times tweeted what seemed to be quotes from the meeting, giving us an early glimpse into the mood of the conversation.
Gates previously said he’d be meeting partners working on global health and development challenges. These are the few remaining areas where China and the West find common ground amid rising geopolitical tensions.
“You are the first American friend I’ve met in Beijing this year,” President Xi told Gates on Friday. “As the world is emerging from Covid, people should move around more, communicate more, and enhance their understanding of each other.”
President Xi also told Gates that China is willing to engage in “extensive technological innovation cooperation with countries around the world” and “actively participate in and promote the response to global challenges, such as climate change and public health,” according to the reporter.
Gates is visiting China at a curious time. Last week, the Financial Times reported that Beijing-based Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), the tech giant’s largest R&D outfit outside the U.S., is moving some of its top AI talents from China to Vancouver to mitigate the impact of the increasingly strained relationship between China and the U.S.
The Biden Administration is weighing restrictions on investments from the U.S. into Chinese cutting-edge technologies, including AI, semiconductors and quantum computing.
MSRA, which started in 1998, has played a pivotal role in training China’s AI talent, many of whom have gone on to found their own ventures. That includes autonomous driving upstart Momenta, which has attracted funding from Bosch, General Motors and Toyota.
It won’t be a surprise if Gates is eschewing the touchy topic of the U.S.-China tech war and focuses on philanthropic endeavors on the trip.
A day before meeting President Xi, he announced a renewed collaboration with the Beijing Municipal Government and Tsinghua University on innovative therapies for infectious diseases in low- and middle-income countries. As part of the partnership, the Gates Foundation pledged a donation of $50 million to the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute, a nonprofit institution established in 2016 as “China’s first public-private partnership on innovative research between the Beijing Municipal Government, Tsinghua University, and the Gates Foundation,” according to the institute’s website.