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Principle CEO positive about China-US relations in 'people's era'

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-06-29 14:37

DES MOINES - Despite public worries about China-US relations in Trump's era, Daniel Houston, CEO of Principle Financial Group, believes it is not the president but the people of the two countries that will ultimately define the success of the China-US relations.

US President Donald Trump's China-bashing campaign rhetoric cast shadows on the relations of the world's two leading economies during his election trail last year.

However, the meetings between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April of this year have greatly calmed jitters among the public and revived hopes, especially with the launch of the 100-day Action Plan after the meetings, which meant to relieve trade concerns between the two countries.

When asked about his view of the China-US relations in Trump's era, Houston told Xinhua, in an exclusive interview on Tuesday in his office in Des Moines, that people should view the relations beyond a cyclical perspective.

"The way that I would think about is not so much the Trump era. I would like to think about it as the era of the Chinese and American people, because of our mutual dependencies on one another," said Houston.

"No matter who the president is, it is the consumers, corporations and individuals, who are consuming these products in China and in the US, that will ultimately decide what the success is of the US and China trade relationship," he added.

US goods and services trade with China totaled an estimated $648.2 billion in 2016, with China ranking as the largest goods trading partner of the United States. Moreover, Chinese companies invested a record 46 billion dollars in the United States in 2016, tripling the amount in 2015 and representing a tenfold increase compared to just five years ago.

"You have a very large economy, that is gonna benefit greatly from US export products, and I have no doubt that the US economy is gonna benefit from significant Chinese exports. So it only makes sense that we have a healthy and vibrant trade relationship between China and the US," said Houston.

Opportunities in china

While some US companies have voiced concerns about China's business environment in recent years, Houston views the issue in a two-way context.

"I think the quite opposite," Houston said, "not only did the US companies express concerns and challenges, but the same Chinese companies expressed similar challenges of doing business in the US. So we both mutually have to learn how to work with one another."

Principle set up an office in China in the early 1990s, and created an asset management company together with China Construction Bank (CCB) in 2005, which managed assets over 300 billion yuan ($44 billion) at the end of 2015.

The importance of patience and resilience is well exemplified by Principle's persistence in Chinese market over the last two decades. In an area highly effected by domestic policies and regulations, Principle has continuously made progress with its Chinese partner CCB, helping Chinese customers with its expertise, products and services.

"I think if we stick to it, and we are persistent, and we add good value, and there is good transparency, good cooperation and partnership, then we'll see more Chinese companies doing business in the US, and more US companies doing business in China," said Houston.

"And it doesn't happen overnight, so the useful thing is to foster longstanding relationships and understandings, because sometimes we don't always communicate as clearly and transparently as we need to," Houston added.

Focusing on the booming opportunities in China's pension management market, Principe and CCB signed the Strategic Cooperation Agreement and a memorandum of understanding in 2016 to develop a new asset management and pension partnership.

The agreement created an opportunity for the Iowa-based US company, which is famous for its pension management expertise and has $619.7 billion in assets under management, to participate in China's evolving pension and asset management industry.

"The challenge in China is very similar to the US, because you have a 1.3 billion population, and you have a society that is growing older and gray," said Houston, "so you can see the very natural reasons why the appropriate officials in China will want to tap into the knowledge, the expertise, the products and services, the investment techniques to allow the government to not have so much burden for the retirees of Chinese companies."

Long-term horizons match up

Pension management industry is not only about reducing fiscal burden for the government or providing alternative retirement plans for individuals, it also has a great meaning for the whole economy.

In developed economies like the US and Japan, pension funds played a critical role in providing long-term strategic investments, which is essential for long-term projects like infrastructure programs.

In order to finance infrastructure programs, "you want long-term strategic investors," said Houston, "the beauty of that is you are aligning the assets with the liabilities, like 30 years liability with 30 years asset, so everyone wins."

Besides, long-term strategic investors are also indispensable for financial stability, he said.

"What you can avoid by those long-term strategic investments is the volatility in the market. That does not mean that you would be guaranteed that you wouldn't have volatility, but clearly you have the benefit of a much stable economy," Houston explained.

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