Stephen Foley: GE boss turns his fire on his own feet


US Outlook: Chief executive of multinational corporation slams government regulation, protectionism – shock.

To the (limited) extent that Jeff Immelt's (slightly) disparaging comments about Chinese and American policies tell us anything, it is that he views General Electric as a national champion for the US, rather than as the citizen of the world that it and other global corporations purport to be.

Were his remarks at a private dinner in Rome really worth reporting in breathless tones? His comments on the US, hyped into "harsh words for Barack Obama", were as follows: "We have to become an industrial powerhouse again but you don't do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in sync." That is not far off boilerplate.

Slightly more interesting, discussing China with the audience of Italian businessmen, Mr Immelt said he "really worried" because he was "not sure that in the end they want any of us to win, or any of us to be successful".

For the record, GE says the remarks were taken out of context – the context being a long dinner where he also discussed the positive attractions of doing business in China. It was impolitic, certainly, for the boss of a company with more than $5bn in annual revenue from China. It is hardly news that the softly-softly opening up of the Chinese economy has been designed to nurture local businesses, rather than just let American multinationals pile in.

And who is the one talking about "them" and "us" here, anyway?

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