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What's China Really Thinking?

Understanding the trade war

No global issue has had more impact on U.S. CEOs in the past few years than America’s evolving relationship with China. At a recent gathering of big-company CEOs in Washington hosted by Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute, 64 percent said that Trump’s tough U.S. stance on China was justified, with 65 percent saying U.S. business has suffered from unfair Chinese competition. Yet, 58 percent did not think the President would achieve a trade deal with China this year, and 80 percent said they thought business confidence was suffering as a result of U.S. trade policy.

So how does China see it? And what does the increasingly authoritarian rise of President Xi Jinping mean for China’s relations with American companies—especially over the long haul? For insights, we turned to Robert Kuhn, a reformed investment banker with personal relationships at the highest levels of China’s leadership, as well as decades of experience coaching American companies on dealmaking in the country.

How close is Kuhn to China’s top leaders? Critics say he’s too close. Put it this way: When President Xi recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of communist party rule with a massive military parade, Kuhn was invited to be the English-language commentator for Chinese television. Chief Executive caught up with Kuhn shortly before he travelled to China for the big occasion to ask him for his take on the situation—and what it means for American business over the next few decades. What follows is edited for length and clarity.

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