When I received in 1989 a letter from Paolo Fresco, GE’s Vice Chairman International, that I had been selected to go to China with the Executive Development Program that takes place annually inside the Group, I immediately agreed. These three weeks have changed my perception of the world. All I knew about Asia was Japan and Hong Kong.

The highlight was the visit to the NYSE of President Jiang Zemin, followed by the return visit in the Great Hall of People in Beijing. When the President told us that his nightmare was that the modernization of farming would create 100 million unemployed I realized how disconnected our “opinions” are about China. a few years later, Vice-President Hu Jintao would also visit the Exchange.

Today, I travel to China every quarter for the board of AXA TianPing. The experience of working with Chinese companies as well as their government and regulators, is a unique one.

Yet, it is a Communist country, and freedom is not the same as our democracies. At every corner, any business initiative involves the central Government or local authorities (or both). It makes things complicated, but also driven by rules, inspection, corruption… My experience in dealing with those public officials was rich and diverse.


Our partnership with the City of Guangzhou (Canton) and the Nandja Development Zone, has been stimulating and the officials we met looked more business driven than some business people in the West.

The same applies to our strategic partnership with Everbright Securities, the brokerage arm of the State Council-owned Everbright Group.

Reading what is written in the United States about China is disappointing, at best.

The underlying ignorance and antagonism make absolutely no sense. We do not even realize how we are perceived by officials who know the United States through the thousands of Chinese who study in US universities every year. But it is also dangerous.

Their initiative to create an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to compete with the World Bank sends a powerful message.

When President Xi Liping was elected, he satisfied the tradition to speak at the Boao Forum. His speech was unequivocal. Asia is our continent and we will not tolerate those who try to mess around its prosperity and peace (he meant North Korea at that time).

 

China wants Europe to counterbalance the weight and power of the United States. Europe is responding through national initiatives and the European dialogue is formal and ineffective. Chinese businesses have started their shopping spree in Europe with preferences for the UK, Scandinavia and Germany.

 

China’s financial services continue to represent a fragile and potentially explosive combination of State Owned and Private Companies. Let’s not forget that gambling is in the blood of the Chinese: their financial markets, as proved by the 2015 equity crisis, will need to obtain financial stability.