Donald Trump was the elephant in the Waldorf Astoria hotel’s ballroom Thursday night, as Chinese and U.S. business leaders gathered for a gala dinner and pondered the future relationship between the superpowers.
New York’s former mayor and vocal Trump-critic Michael Bloomberg used the upcoming Chinese year of the rooster to snap an apparent jab at the president-elect. “The rooster is a symbol of good luck, and I think given what’s going on in the world we’re gonna need some of that,” he quipped.
Other speeches at the China General Chamber of Commerce’s lunar new year of the rooster gala all focused on one theme: what will happen to U.S.-Chinese relations when Donald Trump is sitting in the Oval Office. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sounded optimism. “I have every hope that each side will conclude, as we have for the previous decades, that common efforts are in the fundamental interest of our country, the United States, and of China,” he said.
Trump made attacks on China a staple of his campaign and promised to label the country a currency manipulator, prompting fears among some analysts that economic and political ties between the countries could suffer. The subject is a particular important one for New York’s real estate industry, which has increasingly depended on Chinese investment.
One Chinese investor who has spent billions on New York properties, Anbang Insurance Group’s Wu Xiaohui, gave a rare public speech in the hotel his company owns. Wu, who bought the Waldorf Astoria for $1.95 billion from the Blackstone Group in 2015, opened up on his personal ties to Blackstone’s real estate head Jonathan Gray. “I’ve been a good friend of Jon Gray (…) since this transaction,” he said through a translator, touting them as an example of a positive U.S.-Chinese relationship. “My father got a serious disease and I want to especially thank Jon Gray, who provided kind help to search for a good doctor to make good treatment for my dad.”
Anbang, which has close ties to the Chinese government, a murky ownership structure and an appetite for trophy real estate assets in the U.S., is said to be negotiating a deal with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to become a joint-equity partner on office-and-retail tower 666 Fifth Avenue. The New York Times reported last week that during a dinner with Kushner at the Waldorf Astoria, Wu expressed a desire to meet Trump. (Kushner Companies told the Times that the firm has no immediate plans to sell the building.)
Xu Chen, head of Bank of China USA and chair of the CGCC, also spoke at the event Thursday night, as did former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Blackstone’s CEO Stephen Schwarzman described the United States as being in a “in the midst of a period of profound political and economic transition.” The challenge, he said, is to help those who feel left behind by globalization while also “maintaining a productive and peaceful relationship between our two countries.”
China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, alluded to “uncertainty in the world” and sprinkled his speech with a reprimand for what China considers improper U.S. statements on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but he also urged unity between the two countries.
“We know the road will not be all smooth,” he said, “but we are determined to overcome all difficulties.”