What is 'China Risk' and Why Global Companies Can't Ignore It

By Ryan Gandolfo, February 5, 2021

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Game Theory is a regular series where we speak with a professional with insight into China’s business and tech scene.

A leading voice on China’s role in the global economy, Political Economist Dr. Shirley Yu is highly sought after whenever China is making global headlines (which is often). With a PhD in Political Economy from Peking University and a Master’s degree in Government from Harvard, Yu’s career has taken her from Wall Street to a leading news anchor role in China and much more. She is at the forefront of China policy, and a contributor to the Financial Times. Below, Yu shares insight into her career in China policy and discusses her media ventures. 

How’d you get started in public affairs?
I have always had a passion for public affairs since childhood. But innately, it has always been driven by the intellectual curiosity to seek the truth. What really took me back to the global public arena was the onset of the US-China Trade War in 2019. I decided to dedicate time to help the world understand China better at a critical global juncture, through research, writing, teaching and public debates.  

Dr. Shirley Yu

You became a Chinese national TV news anchor in 2009 following a career in investment banking in the US. What brought about this change and how did your work as a TV news anchor shape your career path today?
I always believe I have lived in the best of times. We are the generation that has not experienced hunger or a war in our lifetime. This upbringing imbues a sense of optimism and confidence. We dared to venture, and the world opened its arms to Chinese talents, until recently.  

In retrospect, 2009 was when China began its economic rise against the rest. But then, returning to China and changing a profession was a career gamble. I could not possibly have known what happened next. I remember the time when I worked in media in Beijing, Hank Paulson visited China over 100 times. Countries, corporates and NGOs all gathered in Beijing. Beijing was the epicenter of global progress. It was a wonderful time to sit in one city and see the world coming your way. 

How would you best describe ‘China Risk?’
China risk is the corporate risk of failing to get China right, when massive commercial interests are derived from China.

Public company boards are serious about controlling risks. I have always asked to place China risk on the same level of significance as cybersecurity risk, accounting risk, financial risk, legal risk, etc. at corporate boards. 

In 2019, the former CEO of Cathay Pacific resigned because of China risk. That same year, from Coach and Versace, to the NBA, we saw how devastating China risk can be for some of the most successful global companies with significant business interests in China. They see the China opportunity but failed to foresee the sensitivities of the China market. 

China risk, to some of the leading global executives and board members, has become not only a significant corporate risk, but a very personal one. 

China risk governance should center on two dimensions: The decision as to what degree the company should participate in the Chinese market and the corresponding board-level expertise on China’s business and market.  

How can readers gain a better understanding of China’s complex environment through China Big Idea newsletter and Hey China! talk show?
China BIG Idea is a daily strategic briefing service on China’s economy, capital markets, foreign policy, technology and government, designed for the Fortune Global 500 senior executives and global policymakers. China BIG Idea aims to bring insights and intelligence from China, to help significant global stakeholders make solid China decisions, with trusted knowledge, deep expertise and a non-biased strategic focus. 

I co-created Hey China!, a New York-based business talk show, to bring China’s top executives, change-makers and thought leaders to illuminate the authentic transformations in China. 

The policy and the media arms both fulfill the same mission. I am very grateful to my aspiring global team, who believe in what we do. 

What sectors in China’s economy do you expect to see the most development from over the next decade?
Under ‘Made in China 2025,’ China’s smartphone and NEV manufacturing each account for about 50% of the global market share now. High-end manufacturing will continue to present opportunities. 

The next one is AI Vision 2030. Industries related to IoT, AI, smart cities, and cloud services will quickly advance. China begins to vie for leadership in autonomous driving technologies. 

The long-term strategy of carbon-neutrality in 2060 will obviously offer great long-term opportunities for green development and environmental technologies. 

For more Game Theory, click here.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Follow Dr. Yu on Twitter (@shirleyzeyu) or LinkedIn, check out Hey China! on YouTube and visit China BIG Idea at chinabigidea.info. You can reach her via email at media@shirley-yu.com.

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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