President Xi Jinping is asking former CEO Howard Schultz of Starbucks to help repair U.S.-Chinese relations that have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid a tariff war and tension over technology and security.
A letter from Xi to Schultz reported Friday by the official Xinhua News Agency was a rare direct communication from China’s paramount leader to a foreign business figure. Schultz opened Starbucks’ first China outlet in 1999 and is a frequent visitor.
Xi wrote to Schultz “to encourage him and Starbucks to continue to play an active role in promoting Chinese-U.S. economic and trade cooperation and the development of bilateral relations,” Xinhua reported. No text of the letter was released.
Xinhua gave no indication whether the letter reflected an initiative to ask American corporate leaders to help change policy after President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week.
Economists and political analysts say Biden is likely to try to revive cooperation with Beijing over North Korea and other political issues. But few changes on trade are expected due to widespread frustration in Washington over China’s human rights record and accusations of technology theft.
The Cabinet press office didn’t immediately respond to questions about what Xi wanted Schultz to do and whether he contacted other American business leaders.
Schultz, who was Starbucks CEO until 2017 and chairman until 2018, led an aggressive expansion that made China its biggest market outside the United States. Starbucks says it has more than 4,700 stores and 58,000 employees in almost 190 Chinese cities.
Schultz said in 2019 that he was considering running for president as an independent but later dropped that.
Xinhua said Xi was responding to a letter from Schultz that congratulated the Chinese leader on “the completion of a well-off society” under his leadership, Xinhua said.