Insurance veteran Evan Greenberg has called on the US to “tone down rhetoric and symbolism around Taiwan” and focus on preserving peace and stability in the region, in the latest sign of how deepening geopolitical divisions are worrying corporate leaders.
Greenberg, who has built New York-listed Chubb to become one of the world’s biggest insurers, devoted part of his annual letter to shareholders to US-China relations. The chief executive called the tensions over Taiwan “the most proximate risk of conflict” for the relationship between the two superpowers, as Beijing presses its claims over Taipei and Washington encourages the island to strengthen its defences.
“We should, however, tone down rhetoric and symbolism around Taiwan,” Greenberg wrote in the letter, which was filed with regulators on Monday. “Supporting Taiwan as a demonstration of opposition to China does not improve America’s national security; it just raises China’s insecurity and feeds its impulses to overreact to Taiwan-related events.”
Greenberg is known for voicing his views on political events. In January 2021 he publicly condemned the “demagoguery” of rioters storming the US Capitol.
His father, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg — who once led AIG to become the world’s largest insurer — headed an open letter from economic and foreign-policy figures in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday calling for US and China leaders to “work together diligently to repair and stabilise the state of affairs between our two countries”.
China and the broader region are an increasingly important market for Chubb. In November, it received regulatory approval to increase its ownership in Huatai, which has about 19mn customers in China, from 47 per cent to more than 80 per cent. Last year, the company also completed an acquisition of New York-listed Cigna’s life and health insurance businesses across six Asia-Pacific markets, including Taiwan. It spent almost $7bn between these two transactions.
In the shareholder letter, Evan Greenberg acknowledged the economic challenge China presented to the US but it was not, he said, “predestined to emerge as an enemy or a winner”.
“China is not 10 feet tall and will not rise on a linear trajectory,” he said.
He warned any efforts from Washington to try to “contain” China or to seek the collapse of its ruling Communist party would be “self-isolating”, arguing there was a lack of enthusiasm in other countries for such a move. Greenberg also criticised Beijing for “overplaying the role of the state in the economy”.
He wrote: “From a historical perspective, no country has delivered sustained growth for long by replacing the judgment of markets with that of the state, as China increasingly is doing . . . Soothing words will not restore private sector foreign and domestic business confidence and encourage investment.”
In a typically wide-ranging letter, Greenberg also addressed the risk environment facing insurers, which he said was growing “more threatening and challenging to navigate” as the cost of claims was being driven up by three major factors: inflation, higher liability costs and climate change effects.
He said the cost of casualty insurance, a broad spectrum of policies covering everything from car accidents to medical malpractice, would “need to rise at an accelerated rate or else the industry will fail to keep pace”.