by Malcolm Curtis (malcolm-curtis.com)
Outspoken Hong Kong billionaire Ronnie C. Chan is bullish on America’s future and he was happy to emphasize the point in a luncheon speech to the American International Club of Geneva on June 17.
In a talk on “America, China, Europe and the future of the world economy,” the successful businessman, who admitted he was a “rather politically incorrect guy”, had words of cheer about the US, although he later raised concerns about the country.
“I happen to be a firm believer that America will dominate the world for a long, long, long time to come,” Chan said.
“Some Chinese . . . look at the negative side of America,” he said. “I always tell them, you better think twice because if not you will be surprised by America in an unpleasant way.”
Chan, who peppered his presentation with jokes and self-deprecating asides, said he believed the United States would become one of the most significant manufacturing centers in the world, as it was in the 1950s and the 1960s.
He then listed the reasons why the US has a lot going for it.
Chan said the country has all the things needed for manufacturing, including loads of land, natural resources (including 17 percent of the world’s rare earth metals), technological know-how, capital and energy.
The only thing the US doesn’t have is cheap labor. But that’s not a problem, Chan said, because he believes robotics will make labor costs irrelevant.
He also noted that the US, after championing globalization 13 years ago and forcing China into accepting a “rather unequal treaty” with the World Trade Organization, is now in favor of protectionism, along with Europe.
“I think America is going to be fine for a long, long time to come.”
Chan, co-founder of the Morningside Group, a Chinese conglomerate, and chairman of the the Hang Lung Group, was surprisingly less upbeat about his home country.
“China is a phenomenon,” he acknowledged, noting the country’s rapid economic rise over the past 30 years.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping improved the standard of living of the “largest number of people in the shortest period of time.”
But China’s Achilles’ heel is its institutions, which “may not be the most appropriate”.
Chan, who earned an MBA from the University of Southern California, said the country’s universities also have problems.
His family donates to universities in China and in the US but for cultural reasons “universities in China are just no good” with subjective decisions overruling “objective measures”.
The other thing that could halt China’s rise is if something goes “real wrong” like the Tiananmen Square massacre of protesters (in 1989) that set the country back at least seven years, he said.
As for Europe, Chan seemed to hold little hope for the continent’s future.
He recalled being a speaker at a forum three or four years earlier, where the keynote speaker was former US national security adviser and secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
The forum had heard a lot of talk about the European Union, but Kissinger in his “deep Germanic accent” said “for the rest of the world, nobody cares”.
Chan also recalled that Deng Xiaoping, head of the Chinese communist party, saying that China would never follow the “over-socialist way of the European Union”.
He said his company pulled out of Geneva, where it directed European operations, because its returns were so much better in the US.
But Chan finished his talk with three “worries” about America.
These included a “loss of moral leadership”.
He said the US needs to throw away its cloak of “righteousness” away and get off its “high horse” and work with China.
Chan also said he was concerned that America called countries such as Japan “allies,” but not China.
“If you’re not at war, why are we not all friends?”
Finally, he expressed concerns that the US will lose confidence in itself.
If that happens, America would feel the need to “find an enemy.”
He said he hoped in that respect a voice of “sensibleness” would prevail.