John Zhao: Exerting Influence and Being Influenced

Jan 28 , 2021

John Zhao, Founder & Chairman of Hony Capital.


Good morning. I’m very pleased to see many old friends and to be able to make a few new ones through this digital media.

The China- U.S. relationship has always had an element of people-to-people support. I wanted to focus on people and friendship, and build a thesis to illustrate that rebuilding trust, starts from people, and the government needs to follow people’s will.

And since the opening-up of China in the last few decades, the U.S.-China relationship has experienced a period of accelerating cooperation. The U.S. benefited, China benefited, the world benefited. In the last four years, we’ve also witnessed an accelerating deterioration of the relationship. Now, in the aftermath, I think we have a lot of common views.

Number one, the U.S.-China relationship is still the most important bilateral relationship. If these two powers collaborate, we will all benefit. The world will remain peaceful. Today, thanks to the last four years of fighting and conflict, we’re now facing the differences, focusing on the differences. And that’s very realistic. We need to face them to work them out. The question is how? I will just assert that the governments on both sides will have many, many mutual learning discussions to work out. It’s very tough work because the two peoples are coming from different histories, are under different management systems and we’re dealing with some common, — and many separate — issues.

Now, let’s do a bit of storytelling, you know, Mr. Orlins started with Ping-Pong Diplomacy, which is a fabulous example of how people-to-people connectivity has always played a role in the China-U.S. relationship. As a matter of fact, the U.S. government and the Chinese government fought two World Wars on the same side. And after 22 years of attempts, Ping-Pong diplomacy opened up the dialogue. And we witnessed how good it could be when people connected, developed friendship and built trust.

I want to share a story that I’m participating in, experiencing a bigger ball. It’s a basketball. I have the fortune, on behalf of our organization, of investing in NBA China, which is the NBA extension into the Chinese market, which started in 2003. I’m still serving on the board.

In 2019, we experienced a little incident where a manager of a very well-respected U.S. team tweeted some supportive comments about what’s going on in Hong Kong. Little did he know, little did the NBA know, little did the American public know, that this would cause a very quick and massive reaction, not by the Chinese government initially but by the Chinese people, by the fans who love to watch the NBA. By the way, there are more than 640 million Chinese viewers of NBA games, so far.

And so, this incident demonstrated the fundamental fact that people-to-people connections have always played an important role. And they will continue to play an important role. But with globalization and digital media, people’s views, their sentiments, are both influential and easily influenced.

So to conclude my remarks, I want to make three suggestions:

• As the two countries have so many differences that we’re focusing on, that we need to work out, let’s allow people-to-people connections and encourage that. Because friendship matters. Friendships, viewed one at a time, individually, serve as the bedrock for building trust between nations, especially when we have many, many differences to work out.

• Social media provides a platform for people to be connected. People through this connectivity are very influential as a group, but we should be wary because they’re also easily influenced.

• Political leaders, people who love peace and are responsible for guiding our nations to betterment, should utilize this platform and provide facts. The facts matter. Truth matters. And they should speak constructive words because words matter.

So I hope through encouraging more people-to-people connectivity, especially during this difficult time, we will be able to build friendship, develop trust that will help us to solve the differences.

Thank you.