HONG KONG, June 14 (Reuters) – Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) co-founder, is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday during his visit to China, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The meeting will mark Xi’s first meeting with a foreign private entrepreneur in recent years. The people said the encounter may be a one-on-one meeting. A third source confirmed they would meet, without providing details.

The sources did not say what the two might discuss. Gates tweeted on Wednesday that he had landed in Beijing for the first time since 2019 and that he would meet with partners who had been working on global health and development challenges with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation and China’s State Council Information Office, which handles media queries on behalf of the Chinese government, did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board in 2020 to focus on philanthropic works related to global health, education and climate change. He quit his full-time executive role at Microsoft in 2008.

The last reported meeting between Xi and Gates was in 2015, when they met on the sidelines of the Boao forum in Hainan province. In early 2020, Xi wrote a letter to Gates thanking him, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for pledging assistance to China including $5 million for the country’s fight against COVID-19.

The meeting would mark the end of a long hiatus by Xi in recent years from meeting foreign private entrepreneurs and business leaders, after the Chinese president stopped travelling abroad for nearly three years as China shut its borders during the pandemic.

Several foreign CEOs have visited China since it reopened early this year but most have mainly met with government ministers.

Premier Li Qiang met a group of foreign CEOs including Apple’s (AAPL.O) Tim Cook in March and a source told Reuters that Tesla’s (TSLA.O) Elon Musk met vice-premier Ding Xuexiang last month.

The mood of the foreign business community towards China, however, has turned cautious as Sino-U.S. tensions intensify and Xi increases the country’s focus on national security.

Gates’ visit also comes ahead of a long-delayed visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China set to take place between June 18-19 which is aimed at stabilizing relations between the world’s two largest economies and strategic rivals.

Blinken had a tense call with China’s foreign minister Qin Gang on Wednesday, during which Qin urged the United States to stop meddling in its affairs and harming its security.

Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Beijing Newsroom; Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Writing by Brenda Goh; Editing by Alex Richardson, Sumeet Chatterjee, Nick Macfie, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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