Ex-AIG head seeks trust in China-US relations

Updated: 2013-05-07 11:10

By Chris Davis in New York (China Daily)

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Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, the former head of the insurance giant American International Group, said the US-China relations are the most important and troubled in the world, and called for more trust from both sides.

In a wide-ranging discussion sponsored by the China Institute in America, Greenberg, once called by the New York Times the "wise old man" of US-China relations, underscored differences between China and the US. "We're not going to solve these differences overnight. It's going to take a long time to resolve them. But if we don't resolve them, the outcome is going to be bleak for both of us," he said.

Greenberg expressed his confidence in China's new leadership. "I think as a team they'll do quite well," Greenberg said. "And they've got the backing of the rest of the standing committee."

"I'm just sorry that Xi made his first visit to Moscow and not to the United States," Greenberg added, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping. "And if not in the United States, at least someplace halfway."

Greenberg used the first half hour of his presentation to promote his new book The AIG Story (Wiley & Sons, 2013), which lays out his take on the fall and US government bailout of AIG, once the world's largest insurer, blaming the government's "cadre of auditors, lawyers, outside directors and government officials" for running AIG into the ground. As litigation in the case continues, the 88-year-old Greenberg told the audience to stand by for the next "chapter."

The moderator of the event, Stephen S. Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, said the US government is looking at the "old China".

"The US is still looking at China the way China has been in the past: the export, investment-run economy," he said. "The leadership in this country is not looking at what I call the next China, a China that is much more driven by consumption. So, in that context it strikes me that Washington continues to look at the old China as a threat and is unwilling to look at the new China as an opportunity."

Greenberg said that there was a lot of capital in China that wants to invest outside of the country, adding that his company, C.V. Starr & Co, has a unit working on it. "There's now about $10 billion of investment by China in the United States," he said. "There ought to be 10 times that amount. And that would be good for the relationship. There's nothing better than to have their money invested here to build a relationship of trust. We ought to make it easier, not harder for them to invest."

China has to build a consumer model, Greenberg said. The arithmetic, he said, is not complicated: you have 1.3 billion in China, 310 million in the United States. "We're a consumer country. Our exports are nothing compared to what China's are," he said. "Once China becomes a consumer market, they'll go by us like a rocket ship."

Intellectual property remains a big problem, Greenberg said, adding "it's getting better."

On the Chinese government's campaign to root out corruption, he said the farther away from Beijing he traveled, the more diluted the effort appeared. "It's very hard to get things done once it gets down and away from Beijing," he said. "How do you change that over night? It's going to take years and years. We're impatient. We want to get the changes done now."

"We have to learn to live together," Greenberg added. "We are a Pacific power and an Asian power, and so is China. And we're going to have to live, the both of us ,in that part of the world and not say you dominate it or we dominate it. We have to learn to manage that area jointly. Unless we do that, we both lose."

The luncheon was hosted by and held at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which has represented Greenberg.