Xi compared the Chinese economy to a ship weathering rough seas.
Photograph by Lintao Zhang—Getty Images
By Geoffrey Smith
September 22, 2015

On the eve of his visit to the U.S., Chinese leader Xi Jinping really, really wants you to stop worrying about his country.

The stock market has been brought under control, capital flight is negligible, there’s no going back on the pledge to allow market forces more say in the economy, and as for military expansion in the Far East, why, he’s surprised you’d even think of such a thing, according to a written interview given to The Wall Street Journal.

Xi kicks off his visit to the U.S. today in Seattle and is expected to rub shoulders with technology and industry executives, before heading on to a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. and his first outing at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The visit comes with the world’s spotlight firmly on China, whose economic slowdown is now seen by many as the biggest risk to the global economy.

An increase in capital flight, combined with heavy-handed state interventions to stop a stock market panic, have sparked fears that China might abandon its medium-term plan to liberalize and move its economic focus from export dependency toward domestic consumption. That transition has been complicated by a huge rise in private and public debt in the last five years.

Xi sought to downplay such fears in the interview.

“Any ship, however large, may occasionally get unstable sailing on the high sea,” he said, adding that the interventions were necessary to “defuse systemic risks.” There was “no need to overreact” to news like the biggest-ever monthly drop in foreign reserves that resulted from the interventions in August, he added.

“Like an arrow shot that cannot be brought back, we will forge ahead against all odds to meet our goals of reform,” Xi said.

He took pains to play down U.S. fears about China’s territorial ambitions in the region, after a decade-long military build-up and increased assertiveness in pressing claims to disputed islands in the South and East China Seas.

“China has no military base in Asia and stations no troops outside its borders,” Xi said in an implicit dig at the U.S., which has both.

Xi said China isn’t militarily adventurous and wants to work with Washington to address world challenges.

There was no sign of any compromise, though, on the issue of cybersecurity, which has been a constant and growing concern for the U.S. in recent years. Xi stuck to China’s routine denials of any complicity in industrial espionage, saying: “The Chinese government does not engage in theft of commercial secrets in any form, nor does it encourage or support Chinese companies to engage in such practices in any way.”

President Obama last week hinted at sanctions against China if it didn’t curtail its hacking activities, saying: “We are prepared to take some countervailing actions in order to get their attention,” if the snooping continues.

For more on the parallels between China and Silicon Valley, watch this video.

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