Two Chinese business leaders meeting in Kunming used a sustainable development conference as a platform to call for reform this week. Showing either a newfound confidence or an acute lack of tact, two of China's wealthiest men told news outlet CNBC that the mainland business environment was in need of less government control.
Liu Chuanzhi (柳传志) and Huang Nubo (黄怒波), among others, were in the Spring City for the annual China Entrepreneur Club's Summit of Green Companies. Liu is chairman of Legend Holdings, parent company of the world's second largest personal computer company, Lenovo. Huang is chairman of Beijing real estate conglomerate Zhongkun Investment Group.
Both men told interviewers China's giant state-owned companies have first, and sometimes exclusive, access to the country's resources. They argued that the current system thus inhibits growth in the private sector, which in turn stymies innovation. Huang explained his thinking during the interview:
We've lost a lot of valuable resources, and also we've lost a lot of the momentum that we had. Before, we had open markets and entrepreneurship and that's what helped China succeed. We have to go back to market forces as well as fight corruption.
Huang was contrasting the previous administration's approach to public and private enterprises with the new anti-corruption and increased transparency policies of President Xi Jinping (习近平). Perhaps most surprising were Huang's comments regarding the business policies of the previous leadership group. Those comments come just five months after China's power handover. "Now that there's a new government in place I can finally say that the last ten years have been very bad for the economy," Huang said.
Legend Holding's Liu, who is expanding his presence into the world equity market, echoed Huang's comments. Liu however, was a bit more guarded than his colleague:
My view is that the Chinese government should adopt a more systematic and comprehensive approach when it comes to reform...That way the government can push through more social and political reforms that can be the basis of further economic reforms.
For its part, CNBC has repeatedly said private sector Chinese entrepreneurs feel they have just experienced a "lost decade". The phrase was not actually uttered by either of the men interviewed and may seem a bit preposterous in light of the country possessing the fastest growing economy in the world for more than ten years. However, Huang's comments do appear to show a newfound fondness for candor as well as a feeling that the business climate in China may be changing.
This is not the first time Huang has been at the center of a controversy. For the past two years he has been attempting to buy 300 square kilometers of land in Iceland — or roughly 0.3 percent of the entire country. He has been derided in the Icelandic press as being the next Dr No, a James Bond villain bent on world domination.
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