Former GE (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt is still very bullish on China and insistent that the business community stay in the game.
Immelt, who works in venture capital now, said the U.S.-China relationship has never been more “complicated” than it is now, but business leaders need to push forward and engage — despite the fact that it might be unpopular.
“It’s going to be the biggest or second-biggest market in almost everything that’s important,” Immelt said at the 2021 Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit.
Immelt said he is advising companies and “business leaders not to pull back right now.”
"In fact, if anything, if I were back in the seat running a public company, or a multinational company, I’d be investing more in China, not less,” he added.
Solving problems like climate change requires the buy-in and cooperation of China – "China has to be our partner,” Immelt said. “Can you imagine the two biggest economies in the world not having some kind of economic relationship?”
Immelt, former CEO of the quintessential American multinational conglomerate, pointed to electric vehicles and clean tech as prime examples of industries China will influence, along with the U.S. Immelt said China’s influence is by no means dwindling. For example, over the past decade China's Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure project stretching through Asia, Africa and parts of Europe, has been a strong player in global development; despite critical scrutiny of the initiatives, China is a forceful competitor on the world stage.
This, he said, “is not going away, so my belief is engagement.”
Immelt said he recognizes the political difficulty with engaging with China and even globally in certain ways, noting that “globalization used to be a good thing; now if you use the phrase you’re considered an enemy of your country.”
“I know it is really hard right now and very controversial,” said Immelt, currently working as a venture partner for New Enterprise Associates. “But I wouldn’t pull back. I would keep focused on building the right kind of Chinese context inside of your company.”