U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to start fresh with China, a move that would benefit both nations, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman of Starr Insurance Companies, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“President-elect Biden is no stranger to that problem,” Greenberg said at the Reuters Events Future of Insurance USA conference. “We can start anew with that relationship, and we should.”
Greenberg’s comments are notable because of his extensive experience in expanding U.S. insurance offerings into China.
The 95-year-old executive first traveled to China more than 40 years ago, eventually helping the country launch its first insurance operation.
At the time, Greenberg was CEO at American International Group Inc, then a subsidiary of his current company, which has operated in China for more than a century. AIG later launched the first licensed foreign insurer in China.
AIG has since spun off the bulk of the China operations Greenberg built, to repay the U.S. government for a $180 billion bailout during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
In the interview, Greenberg encouraged Biden to respond to a congratulatory message China sent last Friday. He also gave some credit to President Donald Trump for trying to balance trade relationships between the United States and China, but stopped short of calling Trump’s hardline policies a success.
Trump signed a multibillion-dollar trade deal with China in January that cut some U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Chinese pledges to purchase more American farm, energy and manufactured goods. The agreement also addressed some U.S. complaints about intellectual property practices.
The president’s rhetoric on China has been severe at times, accusing the country of ripping off the United States and causing a pandemic he occasionally calls the “Wuhan virus,” referring to a Chinese city where the COVID-19 outbreak seems to have begun.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also has some work to do, Greenberg said, criticizing the leader for China’s behavior toward countries in Southeast Asia. U.S. embassies in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia have accused China of encroaching on others’ sovereignty by, for example, using dams to hold back water from the Mekong River during a drought last year.
Trump “did a great deal to run on an even track,” Greenberg said. “But maybe too fast, too far. So there’ll be an opportunity for to probably do halfway in between.”