Xi and Modi plan visits to US tech giants

Chinese leader seeks political leverage; Indian PM keen on ties: Experts

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are homing in on US tech giants during their visits to the United States this month.

But while both seek an audience with the industry's top brass, their motivations are not the same.

Mr Modi, experts say, is hoping to strengthen business ties and reach out to the Indian diaspora when he swings through California, while Mr Xi is seeking political leverage by stopping in Seattle before making his first state visit to Washington.

Mr Xi will kick off his trip on Sept 22, and is expected to meet tech executives, including Apple chief executive Tim Cook, IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Xi would be hosted by US President Barack Obama on Sept 25.It said the visit will "present an opportunity to expand US-China cooperation on a range of global, regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest", while allowing them to "address areas of disagreement constructively".

Two days later, Mr Modi will visit Facebook's headquarters in California, where he will take part in a town hall meeting hosted by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. His two-day swing through Silicon Valley is also expected to include visits to the Google campus and Tesla's factory.

"He will try to inspire Indian Americans to bring their abilities and money back to India," said Mr Raymond Vickery, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and an expert on US-India relations.

At the same time, Mr Modi will make an "appeal to US technology companies - a great many of which have deep ties to India and Indian executives in their ranks - to enlist their support for his new Digital India initiative", said Dr Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. The initiative aims to pitch India as a new manufacturing and digital hub by expanding Internet access, improving digital infrastructure and boosting electronic manufacturing.

The Chinese agenda in Seattle, on the other hand, will be much more than just a sales pitch to US tech companies. Mr Xi's visit comes amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing, not least over the issue of cyber security, with Washington officials warning that sanctions punishing the Chinese for hacking US companies may be imminent.

In April, Mr Obama issued an executive order allowing the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of any individual or entity behind cyber attacks and cyber espionage, and prevent them from doing business with American firms.

This hard-line stance against cyber espionage follows indictments against five Chinese military hackers last year.

By organising the Seattle visit, "China wishes to demonstrate that, contrary to the US narrative, American companies welcome China, have a good relationship with China and are eager to work with China," said Ms Yun Sun, senior associate with the East Asia Programme at the Stimson Centre.

"It undermines the US stance on cyber issues with China because the US government has been citing American companies' complaints and grievances as a main ground for US action," added Ms Sun.

As to whether sanctions will be imposed before Mr Xi arrives in the US, experts expressed their doubts.

"Introducing sanctions at this stage will not fix the problem - instead, the timing will embarrass and infuriate China into future retaliation," said Ms Sun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Xi and Modi plan visits to US tech giants'. Print Edition | Subscribe