Looking beyond the US-China rivalry

A panel of prominent business leaders, which was organized by the China Economic Forum, focused on the political and economic relationship between the United States and China.
A panel of prominent business leaders, which was organized by the China Economic Forum, focused on the political and economic relationship between the United States and China. Photo by Sari Levy.

Business leaders from China and the United States gathered for a panel Saturday afternoon to discuss the political and economic relationship between the two nations.

The panel — presented by the China Economic Forum and sponsored by the aluminum company Alcoa — featured Klaus Kleinfeld, the chairman and CEO of Alcoa, Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, Mingqiang Bi, president and CEO of the US branch of the bank ICBC, and X. Rick Niu, senior managing director of Starr Strategic Partners. Kleinfeld said the recent change in China’s communist leadership was particularly significant because it will help bring banking and environmental reforms.

“China’s dependence on coal makes it ill-equipped to be a major player in the aluminum industry,” Kleinfeld said. “[The] change in China’s leadership would be good to see [banking and environmental reforms] in the new five-year [economic] plan.”

Kleinfeld said a major challenge to China’s growth is its citizens’ lack of English language skills, which impedes the building of trust in business transactions with Westerners. Recently, he said, China has made significant progress in improving its relationship with the United States by reforming its legal system, particularly including stronger patent protection.

Though the U.S.-China relationship is of “profound importance” to the world, Roach said, the codependence between the two nations will change in the future, leading to challenges for the United States. Contrary to political rhetoric, the United States has benefitted hugely from capital and cheap goods from China as well as from China’s help in financing the federal deficit, he added.

“China’s demand for dollar-based assets will slow,” Roach said. “Whom will America depend upon to fund its deficit?”

Mingqiang Bi described the expansion of ICBC — the largest bank in the world — from its beginning based in China to its current operations in 39 countries.

X. Rick Niu said both China and the United States need to understand each other better in order to facilitate an increased number of business interactions. He said he thinks that China will eventually emerge as a financial center in its own right.

“[China] is 5,000 years old,” he said. “There is never any shortage of entrepreneurs.”

Audience members said they enjoyed the talk because it gave them a new perspective on the relationship between the United States and China beyond their political and economic rivalry.

Erwin Li ’16 said he was struck by the common ground shared by the speakers, all of whom were prominent business leaders.

“It’s necessary to have mindsets like these that are so distinct from the current political mindset of labeling rivals as enemies,” he said. “This can ensure cooperation at every level between the countries.”

Kevin Tan ’16, a member of the China Economic Forum, said he felt as though the speakers identified “the right problems and implementation.”

There are 800 Chinese students at Yale, representing the largest non-American nationality group at the University.

Correction: March 4

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated the event was sponsored by the steel company Alcoa. In fact, Alcoa produces aluminum.

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