Are the values that underpin the global trading and financial system, like bell-bottom pants, subject to the vagaries of fashion? Or have they done strutting the catwalk, now to be tossed into the ragbag of history?
These meaty questions were at the core of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers summit, hosted by AmCham HK at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
First serve went to US Consul General Kurt Tong, who made a robust argument that the values-based system remained the best path to prosperity for all. In an opening speech peppered with trademark humor, Tong took the long view of America’s engagement in the region. In a welcome nod to AmCham’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Tong called on the audience of more than 200 top executives, diplomats and government officials from across the region and beyond, to take a stroll down memory lane to the era of those bell-bottom pants and humanity’s first steps on the Moon.
Back then, US trade with the Indo-Pacific region was virtually non-existent. In the decade that followed, commerce would soar more than tenfold.
The narrative of US relations with Asia is peppered with fears over strategic and economic rivalry – first Japan, more recently China – and over America’s long-term decline.
Today, US trade with the Indo-Pacific stands at US$1.8 trillion. The US has treaty allies in the region, around 365,000 military personnel, and provides about half a billion dollars in military assistance. All of which aim to “build trusting relationships and build space, free seas and open pathways for economic cooperation,” Tong said. “It’s worth noting that Japan never really came close to challenging the United States.”
The US remains a Pacific power and committed to spreading economic prosperity, good governance and security. Tong pointed out that the infrastructure needs of the region’s development goals are far too vast for any one nation to fund. Mobilizing the US$70 trillion of private capital is going to be a vital part of that story, Tong said.
Can’t stop me know...
Next up, Pascale Fung, Director of the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, who argued that the pace and momentum of technological change act against conflict and isolationism.
The world wants AI, the argument goes. AI needs big and open data sets. The two-way flow of research and investment is coupled with software codes and databases that are increasingly open.
Research in the US and China shares the same DNA, she said, pointing to the long history of Chinese researchers who started out at American universities.
Now China’s economic growth has allowed it to focus more resources on areas such as AI and deep learning, in which American has enjoyed unrivaled superiority. While that is raising tensions between the two sides, neither can develop without the cooperation with the other.
Fung also cautioned against national stereotyping, giving the example of the idea that China’s lack of ethical standards gave it an unfair advantage in research. But she said China’s leaders and regulators clearly understood that “If you don’t have ethical standards, you cannot have consumer trust”, describing a “coming crisis of confidence among consumers,” due in part to the ease at which fake news and other hoaxes are created and distributed thanks to new technologies.
OPENING PANEL I: THE FUTURE OF U.S.-CHINA TRADE: HOW DO BUSINESSES COPE?
FOUNDER AND CEO OF GAO FENG ADVISORY COMPANY
“People still have old stereotypes of China – that it’s just a handful of smart guys at the top telling everyone what to do. That’s really not the case anymore. Of course you still have the heavy hand from Beijing, but most of the innovation takes place at the grassroots.”
“The local government is the ‘glue’ which holds these two levels 9the Beijing government and the entrepreneurial level together). There is a three-layer system in China -- it is not so top-down as many people seem to think. And this is the difference between CHina and the Soviets.”
“Ten years ago, people talked about how stupid the Chinese were, how ‘copycat’ they were of other technologies. Today, at this forum, all I hear is about how China is the ‘new Asia’.”
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER AT LAUREATE INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITIES
“I want every student to be an international student. Every student should be thinking globally. They need that muscle.”
CHIEF HUMAN RESOURCES OFFICER AT GLP
“Start with the person, not the job. What kind of characteristics do I want in this company? Hire that then train and teach the rest.”
PRESIDENT, ASIA PACIFIC AT DOW CHEMICAL PACIFIC LTD
“We need smart people to work in smart manufacturing.”
Advice to manufacturers – go local. “You will be surprised by the capabilities of the local markets.”