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Asia CommentTaipan

Dimon and China: honing your speaking skills

Beijing

Jamie Dimon really put his foot in it recently with a quip on China

Anyone even remotely following China's financial markets over the past year would know it's not a country to be taken lightly. Rules must be followed, people must be respected and anything egregious can most definitely land you in hot water.

Which begs the question: what was going on in Jamie Dimon’s mind during his recent speech in Boston?

The JP Morgan CEO was speaking to a group of US business leaders at the end of November when he referred to the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th year anniversary, saying that JP Morgan was also celebrating a century of operating in China.

So far, so normal. But then he added: “I’ll make a bet that we last longer. I can’t say that in China. They are probably listening anyway.”

Is saying a US bank would outlast the Chinese Communist Party sensible at a time of fraught US-China relations? At a time when more and more global businesses are earning a chunk of their revenues from Mainland China? In a year when JP Morgan itself won approval from the Chinese regulators to run a fully owned securities firm in the country?

Dimon quickly realised his faux pas. First he issued a statement saying he regretted the comments and “should not have made them”, and that he was trying to emphasise the strength and longevity of the bank.

Hours later, he apologised again. This time, he said it was “never right to joke about or denigrate any group of people”, be it a country or leadership. “Speaking in that way can take away from constructive and thoughtful dialogue in society, which is needed now more than ever.”

Did his apologies work? Only time will really tell. No Chinese official has officially commented on his statements. But state-owned tabloid Global Times did publish an opinion piece on November 25, titled, rather aptly, but not very concisely: “Jamie Dimon's 'regret' shows West needs better understanding of CPC [Chinese Communist Party] to avoid unnecessary storm”.

Now, I’m not of Dimon’s calibre of course, but even in my usual alcohol-fuelled state at Captain’s Bar, I know enough to steer clear of any politically charged conversations, be they about the UK and Brexit, the US and Donald Trump, or the relationship between Hong Kong SAR and Mainland China.

Instead, I talk to my many admirers about three crucial things: my deep knowledge of wine and whisky, the good ol’ days in the investment banking industry, and of course, the jewel that is Tai Tai.

Bank CEOs looking to sharpen their small-talk and speaking skills — you know where to find me.

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