At last night’s state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping, the guest of honor and President Obama were joined at their table by a select group of business leaders: Mark Zuckerberg, Satya Nadella and Tim Cook. In yesterday’s joint White House press conference for the presidents, topics discussed included climate change, international trade and, of course, the governments’ “joint fight against cyber-crimes.”
Though Silicon Valley bungled its efforts to get immigration reform through Congress, the tech industry’s political influence is hardly waning. If anything, President Xi Jinping’s visit shows that tech is more politically relevant than ever.
When Xi arrived in the U.S. earlier this week, he kicked off his trip by meeting with 28 executives from leading American technology companies, at a conference in Seattle. The guests included Cook, Nadella, Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, and many other bigwigs. What do all these tech companies have in common, and why did Xi rush to meet with them before traveling to Washington, D.C.?
Tech CEOs wanted to hear firm assurances that the Chinese government would take aggressive measures to curtail the devastating hacks that have hampered American businesses, and that their intellectual property rights would be respected. Xi wanted to assuage their fears, and also to let them know China’s recent economic struggles haven’t diminished the massive opportunity for American businesses to reach the 1.3 billion people who live there. And as The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims noted earlier this week, getting in the good graces of Silicon Valley gives Xi more leverage in his ongoing conversations with Obama over retaliation to Chinese hacking, climate change and more.
Obama’s efforts to get the tech industry on his side, on the other hand, have at times fallen flat. His February call for companies to be more transparent about cyber attacks didn’t exactly net rave reviews from Silicon Valley executives. Of course, tech companies are investing billions of dollars in growing their Chinese markets, and the key to playing ball in China means earning the favor of the Chinese government (which they are trying very hard to do).
And it appears the Chinese government’s charm offensive might be more than mere words: Prior to Xi’s arrival in America, security experts noted a decrease in the number of China-based hacks of American businesses. Perhaps a true test of Silicon Valley’s influence will be seeing if it stays that way.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.