Nothing will really be the same after we have vanquished COVID-19, and the future is shrouded from sight. We are navigating in the dark, and the waters have not been so treacherous in living memory.
The world has entered into an unprecedented crisis, and the potential havoc that will be wrecked across the world economy is, as one economist put it, un-model-able. The medical crisis was delivered with an economic twin that will be deeply challenging to grapple with.
Yet, I continue to bet on China in the long-run. Not only does this market remain filled with potential growth and innovation, but it also still has the ability to unlock the closed off parts of its economy and draw in investment and technology to further drive the economy forward. Despite the reform inertia in recent years, China’s leaders have a strong record of opening the door further in response to crises. They did it in 1978 in response to the madness of the Cultural Revolution, in 1992 with the Southern Tour, and again in 2001 by joining the WTO.
The Chamber has a key role to play in breaking the inertia that has held back the reform agenda. Just as we played our part in guiding and supporting the reforms under Premier Zhu Rongji at our inception, so too must we use the considerable resources we now have at our disposal.
Our organisation is only as influential as our members and working groups are active. I believe that we have a window of opportunity that is the silver-lining of the pandemic. Already working groups like the Automotive and Banking and Securities teams have taken a more active role in shaping the reform agenda, and they have found success in pushing the authorities to make small baby-steps in the right direction. I call on our other working groups to follow these examples and make the most of this crisis.
We will also continue to advocate back home in Europe. Our collective experience in China is invaluable to Brussels and our 28 capitals. The rising chorus of voices that sound increasingly Trumpian in tone must be met by our own message for Europe. The EU -China relationship cannot be approached as a zero-sum game, and we have far more to gain from engagement than decoupling. However, that does not mean a passive Europe. Difficult conversations are needed to work out the desynchronised models governing the European and Chinese economies. In the areas where reform and opening cannot be made, the EU needs to create the right tools to mitigate the distortions from the China market, both at home and in third markets. Most importantly, it also demands a unified voice, as disparate messages across the member-states will achieve little.
Whatever may come our way over the next two decades, I foresee a European Chamber that grows stronger and smarter that can produce the results that our members seek, and that only together we can achieve.
President of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China