JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon has lined up Henry Kissinger and a clutch of American and Chinese corporate leaders for a summit in Shanghai as global companies try to navigate the worst Sino-US tensions in years.
The event next week, part of Dimon’s first visit to mainland China in four years, underscores corporate America’s attempts to keep plans on track in the world’s second-biggest economy.
The chief executives of US giants Starbucks and Pfizer, and China’s Baidu and Geely, are among those due to attend in person. Kissinger, the centenarian statesman and architect of Sino-US rapprochement in the 1970s, is set to address the gathering by video link.
The event follows a Chinese crackdown on consultancy firms that has rattled western companies that rely on their advice, and Beijing’s banning of operators of key infrastructure from buying US chipmaker Micron Technology’s products. The US has been making it harder for China’s tech sector to access cutting-edge components and machinery.
It will be the first time Dimon has visited mainland China since he apologised in 2021 for telling US business leaders that his bank would outlast the Chinese Communist party.
“The timing dovetails well with the softening of rhetoric between the US and China, with Biden calling for a thawing”, said Han Lin, a professor at NYU Shanghai. But he added: “We’ve seen this story before, where things improve and then get worse, and it’s the uncertainty that keeps multinational corporations on edge”.
JPMorgan’s own executives have highlighted the fraught relationship between Beijing and Washington. Tension between China and the US was “something that we have to learn to live with because it’s not resolvable, but hopefully through dialogue that tension becomes constructive”, chief operating officer Daniel Pinto told investors this month.
No Chinese government figures are due to speak at the conference, which has in previous years been addressed by a representative from the finance ministry and an adviser to the State Council, or cabinet.
Kissinger, who turns 100 on May 27, and Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state, will join virtually for a session titled “a dialogue on diplomacy” chaired by Mary Erdoes, the bank’s head of asset management. Other sessions include talks about decarbonisation, healthcare and supply chain resilience.
Laxman Narasimhan will attend as part of his first trip to Starbucks’ second-largest market since he took over from Howard Schultz as CEO of the coffee chain in March. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla will join as part of his second visit to China in two months. Bourla told the FT earlier this month he still saw “very big” opportunity for Pfizer in the country.
Robin Li, founder of Chinese internet company Baidu, and Daniel Li who runs Chinese carmaker Geely, are due to speak at the event.
So too are Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, Stella Li, executive vice-president of Chinese electric-car maker BYD and Ming Mei, chief executive of Singapore-based warehouse operator GLP.
JPMorgan declined to comment.
The gathering comes at a time when corporate ties between the two superpowers are fraying and doubts growing over the strength of China’s post-pandemic rebound. However, many global corporations are still looking to China’s economy to drive their growth
Raids on the Chinese offices of several consultancies have made US firms more wary about operating in the country, with the US Chamber of Commerce warning last month that a new counter-espionage law “dramatically increases the uncertainties and risks of doing business in the People’s Republic”.
Washington and Beijing are trying to stabilise relations over trade. China’s commerce minister and his US counterpart raised concerns about their countries’ trade and investment policies at a meeting in Washington this week, but pledged to keep channels of communication open. It was the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the US capital since 2020.
A Conference Board survey released this week showed growing confidence in China’s prospects among chief executives of multinational companies with operations in the country. But 88 per cent of them warned that geopolitical tensions were negatively affecting their businesses and US-based CEOs remained more pessimistic than European peers.
US-based multinationals have reported mixed results from their China operations in the latest earnings season.
It is the first time since 2019 that JPMorgan’s China summit has been held in person and more than 2,600 people are expected to attend the event, whose sessions are closed to media.
Additional reporting by Joe Leahy in Beijing and Jamie Smyth in New York