On February 15th, 2012, Mr. Michael De Clercq, Founder and CEO of China Performance Group, a U.S. and China based company specializing in China sourcing advisory services since 1978, was among the nearly 600 persons invited to the luncheon in honor of the soon to be President of the PRC, Mr. Xi Jinping. This tour to the U.S. was historic in many ways as many old “China hands”, a term referring to foreigners with decades of experience living and working in China, as well as some of the world’s most important business and political representatives were in attendance. Hank Greenberg was among the business participants, as were prominent members of the department of commerce and veterans of China businesses ranging from food and consumer goods companies such as Coca Cola, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, and Estee Lauder, large industrial groups like Caterpillar, Ford, GM and GE, as well as representatives from law firms and the global financial giants. Seated among them, were members of Xi Jinping’s large (approximately 200 person) delegation. John Huntsman and Henry Kissinger, notably, were there as well.
Mr. De Clercq has been doing business in China, participating in cross-border business exchange between the People’s Republic and the West, since the late 1970’s. As such, he was among the few in attendance at the luncheon on February 15, that had the unique opportunity of also being in attendance for Xi Jinping’s lesser-known first visit to the U.S. as part of the delegation from Hebei province that traveled to Iowa in 1985. Mr. De Clercq recounts:
It was exciting for me to attend the luncheon in honor of Xi Jinping in Washington last Wednesday. It was an opportunity to meet impressive people and reconnect with old friends. Carolyn Brehm, for example, whom I had met in China in the late seventies as a trail-blazing China expert at the US-China Business council, was now hosting a table at the luncheon as VP Global Government Relations at Procter & Gamble. Impressive. In fact, I had never seen so many old China hands present in one venue.
The whole event was historical for me. Xi’s visit brought back memories of 27 years ago, in 1985, when I first met Governor Zhang Shuguan of Hebei province in Shijiazhuang. When he took a delegation to Iowa on a sister relationship visit that year, he also visited New York and I had the pleasure of hosting a lunch for him there. I recall we chatted about his impressions of America – and his appreciation for the Chinese food in New York. The fact that a junior cadre by the name of Xi Jinping was part of his delegation was never mentioned.
In this election year for both China and the USA, one cannot help but contrast the solid predictability of Xi Jinping’s future role with the uncertainty of who will be the next President of the USA in January 2013. The two most important countries of our age are run by different sets of rules, each stemming from their unique and special backgrounds – and yet despite the differences, they have to get along.
To paraphrase Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was in attendance at the luncheon [on February 15th], the United States and China perceive that they need each other because both are too large to be dominated, too special to be transformed, and too necessary to each other to be able to afford isolation. As I was leaving the luncheon, it occurred to me that Xi Jinping is heralding a new chapter in the history of China, and this USA trip will be remembered as a milestone in his ascent.
The visit by Mr. Xi will be an important moment in the context of the future development of relations between the two major trading partners. The presence of individuals such as Michael De Clercq, a businessman and “China hand” with over 30 years involved in China manufacturing, emphasizes the long history of business and trade between the two countries. Observing the development of how the state of trade and business grows between the U.S. and China will be an important indicator for the future growth of the global economy.