While Evan G Greenberg, the chairman and chief executive of Zurich-based Chubb Ltd insurance group, was using the stage of a prestigious Washington think-tank to lecture American CEOs about not abandoning the Chinese market – companies from Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea invaded the US government’s annual SelectUSA Investment Summit at National Harbor, Maryland, to sweep up US investment targets once the domain of Chinese competitors.
Greenberg used the stage of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to make a speech urging US companies to remain in the Chinese market notwithstanding arbitrary application of rule of law and human-rights abuses, as well as supply-chain bottlenecks exacerbated by President Xi Jinping’s continued Covid-19 lockdowns.
“We must recommit to an interest-based approach to our economic relationship with China,” Greenberg said to the CSIS audience. “I believe deeply that America is strengthened by having its companies compete and thrive in the global marketplace, and in China.”
Greenberg is known in mainland China as Greenberg Jr; his father, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, is widely credited for setting up the once-great American Insurance Group (AIG) for insolvency during the 2008 financial crisis.
Evan Greenberg also raised eyebrows among members of the audience by claiming to speak for US CEOs.
“Evan talking as a US CEO is amusing considering he transferred the corporate headquarters of Chubb from Warren, New Jersey, to Zurich, Switzerland, after its merger with ACE,” a US financial services CEO said, adding: “He also wants to talk up China since he is taking over a majority stake [86.1%] in [China’s] Huatai Insurance Group.”
When directly asked whether US companies like Chubb may be overexposed to China, Greenberg testily replied that China “represents only 5% of our business.”
While Greenberg may be a lonely voice promoting China trade in the US, CEOs and government leaders from Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea did not miss a minute in announcing multibillion-dollar investments in the United States, mainly semiconductor-related chip manufacturing, at the annual SelectUSA Investment Forum.
The forum was hosted by US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo along with numerous cabinet secretaries and eight state governors, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
President Joe Biden gave recorded remarks to the more than 3,600 attendees from more than 70 nations.
Becoming the world’s second most important financial center after New York after London’s fall post-Brexit and Hong Kong’s political isolation, Singapore utilized the June 26-29 SelectUSA Summit to launch a US-Singapore Women in Tech Partnership, something close and dear to Raimondo, a former Rhode Island governor and private equity/VC CEO.
Singapore’s up-and-coming Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo led not only one of the largest delegations to the SelectUSA Summit but also represented the world’s largest infrastructure investor, the $380 billion-plus Temasek sovereign wealth fund.
Temasek, like the Benetton family-owned Atlantia Group along with Blackstone and Australia’s Macquarie, is looking to make massive investments in US airports, highways, ports and utilities under Biden’s $1.2 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure fund.
Maryland, especially its largest city Baltimore, is a prime target for potential multibillion-dollar investments thanks to its unique mixture of airports, ports and railways.
US Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves said getting significant investment to Baltimore is a top priority of the Biden administration, while US Ambassador to Singapore Jonathan E Kaplan agreed that Baltimore’s historically black science and technology university, Morgan State University, is an ideal location to host the US-Singapore Women in Tech Partnership considering MSU’s unusually high ratio of female STEM students, 51% female vs 49% male.
Taiwan, whose delegation matched the size of Singapore’s and South Korea’s, won the prize for largest deal announcement: GlobalWafers’ news that it will build a $3.6 billion silicon chip manufacturing facility in Sherman, Texas. The GlobalWafers announcement was followed by another Taiwanese chip maker, Mediatek, planning to set up a chip design center at Purdue University in Fayetteville, Indiana.
At the same time, outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan – a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2024 – announced a high-level trade mission to South Korea and a new “Korean Town” in Ellicott City, Maryland, just south of Baltimore.
Unlike SelectUSA summits in the Obama era when Chinese delegations swamped those of any other country, Trump-era sanctions continued under Biden and the Covid-19 lockdown left the few Chinese company executives in attendance like those of Fuqing, China-based Fuyao Glass automotive windshield group feeling as lonely as Chubb’s Evan Greenberg.
While France’s Forsee Power chairman and CEO Christophe Gurtner was winning kudos for opening a $13 million commercial-vehicle battery plant in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, the audience was pointedly reminded of Fuyao’s starring role in Netflix’ fly-on-the-wall documentary American Factory.
The documentary was about Fuyao’s plant in Moraine, Ohio, and about its billionaire owner Cao Dewang’s trials and tribulations of having hired two thousand workers at an abandoned General Motors plant and subsequent corporate culture clashes with American workers and US regulatory agencies.
The documentary was the first film purchased by the production company of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.