An update from MBA student Kenny Ryan:
When Thomas Deng was a teenager in 1980s China, he received an offer that baffled his parents – a scholarship to attend a university in the United States.
His parents couldn’t fathom why some stranger they’d never met, from half a world away, would pay for their child to get a college education.
Today, Deng is the regional chief investment officer and chief China strategist for UBS AG’s office in Hong Kong – a city that has long served as the intersection where East meets West. Sixty percent of all Chinese investments in global business pass through Hong Kong, and western business interests in China have entered through the port city since the 19th century.
Deng looks out over it all from his office in one of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings. Raised in China and educated in America, few are better positioned than him to understand what each civilization could learn from the other. It’s a question that might not be asked often enough.
The United States can learn much from the China’s investment in infrastructure, Deng says. The Chinese constantly update their harbors, roads and utility networks – things that make a society tick, but which we take for granted. The U.S. has the capital, but not the will, to maintain this investment. China has both, and the combination has played a large role in the nation’s recent growth.
If the U.S. could learn to invest in its infrastructure the way China does – and the way America once did – it would be a great boon to our nation’s future.
And what can China learn from the U.S.? Deng’s answer may surprise. It’s America’s two-party political system – the ruin of many a Thanksgiving dinner.
The Republicans and Democrats keep each other in check. When one party overreaches with an ill-conceived policy, voters flock to the other. The harmful policy is defeated and political equilibrium is restored. “Dynamic equilibrium,” Deng calls it.
China is dynamic, but it doesn’t have equilibrium, Deng said. When the Communist party overreaches or makes a mistake, there’s no opposition to point it out and correct it. Course corrections don’t occur until the central government realizes its policies are off the track, which often takes longer than it does in multi-party societies.
While in China with the Cox PMBA Global Leadership Program, I’ll often be asking myself the same question I posed to Deng: What can we learn from Hong Kong and China? And what could they learn from us?
The result, I imagine, will be a greater appreciation for the things we so often take for granted.