In a rare encounter with an American business figure, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, met Friday with Bill Gates as officials from Washington were set to arrive in Beijing in an effort to restart bilateral discussions.
Mr. Xi told Mr. Gates that he was “the first American friend I met in Beijing this year,” according to People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. Mr. Xi also said he wanted to build stronger ties with Mr. Gates’s philanthropic organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to help with aid to developing countries.
The Gates Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Gates’s trip to China, his first since 2019, overlaps with a visit by Antony J. Blinken, his first since becoming secretary of state. It was unclear if Mr. Blinken, who arrives Sunday, would meet with Mr. Xi.
Mr. Blinken had intended to go to China in February, a visit canceled after a Chinese spy balloon’s incursion into U.S. airspace set off a diplomatic crisis in Washington.
Since Mr. Xi abruptly lifted a prolonged period of “zero Covid” restrictions in December, a string of American business leaders have returned to China, including Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, and Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple. (Neither of those two met with Mr. Xi.)
China’s strict pandemic policies had largely closed the country’s borders, preventing meetings between multinational executives and China’s top leaders. A trip by Mr. Xi to Central Asia last September was the first time he had left the country in more than two years.
Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest people, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday to visit health and development partners for his foundation, he said on Twitter.
This was not a first encounter for Mr. Gates and Mr. Xi. They met in March 2015 during an annual conference of foreign dignitaries and business leaders in the island province of Hainan, and again later that year in Seattle when Mr. Xi was in America for his first state visit. In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Xi sent a letter to Mr. Gates thanking him and his foundation for donating money to China’s pandemic fight.
Mr. Gates retains ties with China through the Gates Foundation, recently pledging $50 million in a renewed partnership with the Beijing municipal government and a top Chinese university. He started stepping away from Microsoft in 2008, devoting more of his time to his philanthropic projects, and left the Microsoft board of directors in 2020. He remains Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder with roughly $35 billion worth of stock, according to the financial data company FactSet.