Huang Jingwen/Xinhua/AP
Chinese leader Xi Jinping meets with US CEOs and academics at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 27, 2024.

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Hong Kong/Taipei CNN  — 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping met more than a dozen US CEOs and academics on Wednesday as Beijing renewed efforts to woo back foreign investors and mend strained relations with the United States.

Foreign direct investment in China has slumped in recent months as a combination of slower growth, regulatory crackdowns, onerous national security legislation and questions about the country’s long-term prospects have shaken confidence in the world’s second biggest economy.

The group of CEOs included Cristiano Amon of Qualcomm (QCOM), Raj Subramaniam of FedEx (FDX) and Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group (BX).

Xi invited US businesses to “continue to invest in China” and pledged further reforms to open the country’s markets to foreign firms, according to a readout of the meeting published by the foreign ministry.

“China’s growth prospects are bright, and we have the confidence,” he said, adding that the country’s economy has not yet peaked.

Xi also called for “a better future” between China and the US. “Whether it is traditional fields such as economy, trade and agriculture, or emerging fields such as climate change and artificial intelligence, China and the United States should help boost each other’s development,” he said.

Bilateral relations have already shown improvement since he met with US President Joe Biden in San Francisco in November, Xi added.

The optics of Xi’s meeting with the US visitors were carefully managed by Chinese state media.

Footage aired on state broadcaster CCTV shows Xi’s American guests diligently taking notes and nodding in agreement as the Chinese leader speaks. Meanwhile, photos released by state-run news agency Xinhua show the US participants walking behind Xi in unison on a red carpet.

A striking group photo taken before the meeting also raises questions about who wasn’t invited — with not a single woman among the line-up of American CEOs and academics.

Shen Hong/Xinhua/AP
Xi and his American guests pose for a photo before the meeting.

“These appear to be senior visitors attending the China Development Forum, but the lack of gender/ethnic/age diversity is pretty glaring – and unrepresentative of the true range of expertise or policy perspective on China in the US,” Sheena Chestnut Greitens, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas-Austin, wrote on social platform X.

The meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People came after the close of a major government forum that has invited global business leaders to engage with Chinese officials over many years.

About 100 global CEOs, as well as the heads of international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were in the Chinese capital this week for the annual China Development Forum. More than 30 of them are US executives, according to Chinese state media.

Beijing is trying to revive confidence and stabilize foreign trade and investment as the country faces its biggest economic challenges in decades. It has rolled out a series of measures since last year, including a 24-point action plan published by the cabinet earlier this month, to attract foreign investment and expand market access in high-tech sectors.

But global investors remain wary of China’s rising scrutiny of Western companies as well as a structural slowdown.

In the first two months of 2024, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country shrank nearly 20% from a year ago, underscoring weak confidence among global executives.

That fall came after a decline of 8% in 2023, according to the Commerce Ministry.

Another gauge of FDI — direct investment liabilities — showed an 82% slump in 2023, according to figures released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. It was the lowest in 30 years.

According to a survey released by the American Chamber of Commerce in China last month, 57% of US firms lacked confidence that China would further open its markets to foreign companies.

China has set this year’s economic growth target at around 5%, the same as last year’s. But market watchers say the goal is “ambitious,” given a lack of major stimulus measures by the central government to directly address Chinese consumers’ weak confidence and their unwillingness to spend.

The world’s second largest economy is plagued by a myriad of problems. They include a prolonged downturn in real estate, deflation, debt, a shrinking population and a shift in economic policy toward ideological objectives that has rattled the private sector and scared away foreign investors.

CNN’s Nectar Gan contributed reporting.

This story has been updated with additional information.