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Participating in China's growth very important, says business leader

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-09-24 15:29
Timothy Stratford, former assistant US trade representative and chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, poses for a photo at the 2019 World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, on July 1, 2019. [Photo by Yang Yang/chinadaily.com.cn]

BEIJING - "China is such a huge market, and companies in most cases have to have some kind of China's strategy," Timothy Stratford, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China), said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Though AmCham China does not directly persuade companies to invest in China, it tells its members about "the huge China market and the opportunities in that market, and how important it is for many companies to participate in China's growth," said Stratford.

A former assistant US trade representative for US-China trade relations and ex-adviser for the US embassy to China, Stratford is now the managing partner of a US law firm's Beijing office and has spent much of his time in China since 1982.

Representing more than 900 US companies operating in the Chinese mainland, AmCham China is an influential US business group. According to Stratford, the most important reason for AmCham members to invest in China is to sell itself into the China market.

"I think that every company needs to have a kind of China's strategy because even if you don't invest in China, participating in this market, maybe your competitors will," he said, adding that a company neglecting the Chinese market would lose its competitiveness.

Since his first business trip to China in 1982, he has seen remarkable changes taking place in the country, said Stratford. "I don't think we've ever seen any place in the world that has been growing as rapidly as China. The people and the government of China deserve a lot of credit for that."

He recalled a 2004 speech by the CEO of General Motors, in which the executive said that the size of Chinese auto market was only one third or one fourth of the US one at that time, but is expected to outgrow the US one by the year of 2030.

"That sounded very ambitious, but in fact, China's auto market reached the same size as the US market in 2010," he told Xinhua.

On the current trade tension between the United States and China, he said that the US companies are "very concerned about how long the current restrictions will last."

"It's a very challenging environment now for Chinese companies as well as American companies to make some of their investment decisions because there's a lot of uncertainty," he said, adding that businessmen need predictability to make decisions.

"In general, people in the United States value the relationship with China. And I think people in China value the relationship with the United States on many levels. We have to build on that common positive sense, and solve some very difficult challenges that our governments are trying to address right now," he said.

"Right now, companies can have very complex supply chains. China, of course, plays a very important role in supply chains that extend outside the China market. That's a very important business model. But it's among the ones that are being impacted most by the trade war, by the tariff," he said.

Commenting on some US politician's call for American companies to leave China, Stratford said he does not take it seriously.

"I don't see any (AmCham) members are packing," he said. "China has become for many companies in many industries an indispensable part of the supply chain, so it's not so easy that the two countries should decouple and separate their economic integration from one another."

"If the US companies are pulled out from China, we have billions of dollars to lose. It is a devastating act on a lot of major US companies," he noted.

Acknowledging China's "great manufacturing capabilities" and "developing R&D capabilities", he said: "I think the United States will continue to be strong, but we need to recognize the strength with each other and find ways that we can cooperate."

"The ideal scenario is that both countries benefit from technological advances that the other makes and they benefit from collaboration. So we have to create conditions to make that possible," Stratford said.

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