By Alan Murray and David Meyer
May 8, 2019

Good morning.

Fears of an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war caused stocks to plummet yesterday in the U.S., and continue their decline this morning in Asia. But the man who has spent more years doing business in China than any other American—former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg—said he remained confident the two sides would reach a deal.

“I didn’t sell any stock,” he said. Greenberg, who turned 94 on Saturday, joined Fortune last night at a dinner that is part of the lead-up to the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan province on Sept. 4-6. The event will be a gathering of global business, government and NGO leaders who are focused on ways to accelerate solutions to climate change and other environmental problems.

Greenberg and others at the dinner emphasized that economic reform of the sort the Trump team is pushing is in China’s interest, and many Chinese officials favor it. But they also noted that President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on China this week will make it harder for President Xi Jinping to compromise without losing face.

Greenberg led the business campaign in 2001 to admit China to the World Trade Organization—a move Trump has criticized. But Greenberg said he has no regrets. China did not open its economy as much as he expected at the time, but “you can’t keep 1.4 billion people out of the global trading system.”

Since being forced out as CEO of AIG in 2005, Greenberg has built a second financial services giant, C.V. Starr. These days he is entangled in a dispute with AIG over which firm is the true successor to the company Cornelius Vanderbilt Starr started 100 years ago.

When I asked whether, given his recent birthday, it might be time to consider retirement, he replied: “I’d get too bored.”

Here’s an interview I did with Greenberg on the same subject last month at the Council on Foreign Relations. Details on the Yunnan event here. More news below.

Alan Murray


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