For China’s CEOs, American Protectionism Could be a Curse and a Blessing

But although their business interests are very similar, their views on trade appear to differ drastically. Wang is among a growing number of Chinese CEOs concerned about what a Trump presidency will mean for companies operating in both countries.

Over the weekend, he told a conference in China that Wanda could be forced to cut thousands of jobs in America if the president-elect restricts foreign investment. “I have over $10 billion [of] investment in the United States and employ over 20,000 people there,” Wang said. “If things are mishandled, they will have nothing to eat.”

Wanda has snapped up a host of American entertainment businesses of late, including Legendary Entertainment, which made the recent Batman films, and the AMC movie theater chain.

“I don’t fear a Trump presidency. I think a healthy and positive China-U.S. relationship is so critical.

In his address, Wang went on to note that many big U.S. film companies are increasingly reliant on Chinese ticket sales for growth.

Trump was partly swept to power by the support of working class American citizens afraid of losing manufacturing-sector jobs to leaner overseas operations in places like China and Mexico.

He has pledged to slap a 45% tariff on Chinese imports, a move Alibaba CEO Jack Ma warned would spell “disaster”. Like some U.S. CEOs, though, he doesn’t think Trump will follow through on some of his more controversial campaign rhetoric.

“I don’t fear a Trump presidency. I think a healthy and positive China-U.S. relationship is so critical,” Ma said last month. “He’s a smart person, he will adjust. He will never neglect the relationship between China and America.”

Indeed, it could well be the case that Trump is talking tough now to set a high bar in negotiations he knows will ultimately involve some form of compromise. He already has applied such tactics at home with United Technologies, which he slammed for its plan to move around 2,000 jobs at its Carrier division to Mexico. The company eventually agreed to keep half the jobs in the U.S.

Tech-sector leaders also are nervous Trump will limit the issuance of H-1B visas that allow highly-skilled foreigners to work in America. But even if he does follow through on his most protectionist pledges, at least one Chinese CEO sees a silver lining.

“I hope that talent in all countries can come to China and give us a more important role on the stage of global innovation,” search engine Baidu’s Robin Li recently told a conferencee in China.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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