Bill Gates meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in China

The last time Gates and President Xi crossed paths was back in 2015 during a forum in Hainan province.

Bill Gates meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in China
Microsoft founder Bill Gates attends a forum of the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on November 5, 2018. Matthew Knight/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

The backstory: Since China's borders reopened this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been meeting with fellow state leaders. Notable figures on the list include Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. And it's not just politicians making their way to China. Several CEOs have been there, too. For example, big names like Elon Musk, Jamie Dimon and Tim Cook have had discussions with senior Chinese officials but not directly with Xi.

On another note, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, also headed to Beijing over the weekend. He's the first US cabinet official to visit China since 2018, and it's also Blinken's first trip to China under the Biden administration.

Switching gears, let's talk about Bill Gates. In 2020, he left Microsoft's board to focus on philanthropy, particularly in the areas of global health, education and climate change. The last time Gates and President Xi crossed paths was back in 2015 during a forum in Hainan province. In 2020, Xi expressed his appreciation to Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for pledging US$5 million to support China's fight against COVID.

More recently: Last week, Gates sat down with Beijing's mayor to talk about joining forces on drug discovery in China. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Gates co-chairs, made a big announcement and pledged a US$50 million donation over the next five years to the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI). Beijing's municipal government is also stepping up and matching that investment.

So, what's the deal with GHDDI? Well, it's primarily all about developing new drugs to fight infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. These diseases really take a toll on the poorest parts of the world, so finding effective treatments is critical. When Gates took the stage at GHDDI, he stressed how urgent it is for the world to address the growing threat of infectious diseases making a comeback, the increasingly severe impact of climate change and the pressing hunger crisis.

The development: Over the weekend, Gates met with President Xi in Beijing. This encounter marked Xi's first meeting with a foreign entrepreneur in quite some time. According to state media CCTV, Xi called Gates an "old friend" and emphasized his hope for the friendship between China and the US to continue. In fact, Xi referred to Gates as the "first American friend" he met in Beijing this year. They met at Beijing's Diaoyutai state guesthouse, the go-to spot for foreign visitors to meet Chinese leaders. Gates, who arrived earlier in the week, said he was "honored" to meet Xi. They talked about all sorts of important stuff like global health, development challenges, climate change and even AI.

Key comments:

"I often say the foundation of US-China relations lies with its people. I place my hopes on the American people," said Chinese President Xi Jinping in a video published by state broadcaster CCTV. "With the current global situation, we can carry out various activities beneficial to our two countries and people, activities that benefit humanity as a whole.”

“The world is emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic; people should move more, communicate more, and enhance understanding,”  Xi reportedly said. “China is willing to continue to strengthen cooperation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in relevant fields and provide support and assistance within its capacity to other developing countries.”

“China has made significant gains reducing poverty and improving health outcomes within China. China can play an even bigger role in addressing the current challenges, particularly those facing African countries,” said Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates.