Chinese Companies Succeed at Home. Can They Export Their Success?

Greetings from San Francisco, where Thursday night I helped host a 100-strong delegation from Guangzhou, China. We gathered for dinner at the plush St. Regis Hotel with Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to discuss Chinese innovation.

Those last two words until recently might have constituted what I learned in elementary school to be an oxymoron. No longer. Chinese companies, in their well-capitalized, rapidly growing, and surprisingly lightly regulated markets, have become global innovation leaders.

Michal Lev-Ram has a fine write-up of the night’s proceedings here. Investors Ying Wang and Hans Tung as well as McKinsey thinker Jonathan Woetzel wowed the crowd with examples of how the Chinese already are leading the way is areas like payments, insurance, healthcare, and e-commerce. The unanswered question is whether Chinese companies can export their success, the way a generation of commercially imperialistic U.S. goliaths like Coca-Cola (ko), IBM (ibm), and McDonald’s (mcd) did in previous generations. If I had to guess, the answer is yes.

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Economist, policymaker, and academic Laura Tyson sounded a refreshing note of caution. China’s successes have taken place in an asymmetric fashion, Tyson noted in after-dinner comments, whereby China has repeatedly enjoyed open access to markets like the U.S. while closing its own for key sectors. This was the conclusion of an Obama-era commission on which she served. The current administration in Washington will only form harsher assessments.

U.S.-China commerce will be the most important business story of the next decade. And it certainly will be the biggest story at Fortune the first week of December, when we convene two major conferences in Guangzhou: Brainstorm Tech International and the Fortune Global Forum.

Have a great weekend.

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