DealBook Online Summit: Antony Blinken Warns on China, Mary Barra Plugs EVs

DealBook Online Summit: Antony Blinken Warns on China, Mary Barra Plugs EVs


That’s a wrap. On the second day of our two-day summit, we heard from leaders in business, policy and culture on geopolitical maneuvers, economic tests, environmental challenges and more.

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Particularly for sensitive areas of technology and investments, for example, coming from China in those areas, there is no separation between private enterprise and the state, and private enterprise in China is absolutely beholden to the state. And if the state wants information, if it wants intellectual property, if it wants anything that one of these enterprises is having access to as a result of its investment or its engagement, the state will get it. So countries have to be very, very aware of that. At the same time, I think that what I’m seeing from, you know, companies around the world, and countries around the world, is to the extent that China is engaged in repressive activities at home, we don’t want to be in the business of providing it the technology to do that right. And I think you’re seeing that increasingly around the world. Similarly, if products are made as a result of forced labor or worse, we shouldn’t be in the business of acquiring that or buying that. So there there are certain guardrails around this that I think the world is establishing, but not for the purpose of decoupling.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said companies and countries should prevent China from accessing their sensitive technologies, especially those that could be used as instruments of repression.

Mr. Blinken, speaking at the DealBook Online Summit, warned executives that the boundary between the Chinese government and Chinese companies is porous.

“There is no separation between private enterprise and the state. Private enterprise in China is beholden to the state,” Mr. Blinken told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. “If the state wants information, if it wants intellectual property, if it wants anything that one of these enterprises is having access to as a result of its investment and engagement, the state will get it.”

Mr. Blinken’s comments come at a time when Beijing has been increasing its control of economic activity at home, including cracking down on Chinese technology companies that have raised money from investors outside China. Mr. Blinken said the appropriate response is not to decouple from China, but for the United States and other governments to ensure that China plays fairly when it comes to international trade.

“It is about, as I said, making sure it is done in a fair way, that we have a level playing field — that there is genuine reciprocity in the way China engages the world commercially, and the way that the rest of us engage China,” Mr. Blinken said.

On Tuesday, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, also speaking at the DealBook Online Summit, responded to criticism that he hasn’t done enough to publicly condemn allegations of human rights abuses in China. Mr. Cook defended a low-key approach, saying that Apple speaks up privately on matters of concern. “Being on the sidelines is never a good place, at least for business,” Mr. Cook said. “Engagement is the right approach.”

Mr. Blinken, on Wednesday, said that it is up to companies that do business in China to decide whether they should speak out on human rights issues. “What I’m hearing from company after company, in the United States and around the world, is a clear focus on making sure that they are not providing technology to China or to anyone else that could be used to repress people,” said Mr. Blinken. He added that forced labor is another issue that companies working in China are aware of, and need to be. But when it comes to weighing in on political issues, he said, companies face tough decisions. “I will let businesses decide for themselves how they want to approach these issues,” said Mr. Blinken. “There are, I think, good-faith arguments in various directions.”

As for Taiwan, which Beijing has long maintained should be a Chinese territory, Mr. Blinken reiterated that the U.S. was committed to previous promises to aid in its protection. “We stand strongly against anyone taking unilateral action to disrupt the status quo by force,” said Mr. Blinken.

In addition, he said, if China were to use force against Taiwan, other countries, in addition to the U.S., would see it as a “significant threat” to world peace and their own security. “They, too, would take action in the event that that happens,” Blinken said.

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Philippines also, it shows you that it is happening everywhere around the world, that our dystopia is coming for you. It already has come for the United States. It is the kind of social media impact, you know what happens when social media has been “optimized” in the words of tech, to the point that it is now a behavior modification system where information operations are changing us.

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The journalist Maria Ressa, who won a Nobel Peace Prize this year for her work in the Philippines as the chief executive and co-founder of the digital media company Rappler, says she has seen the future. It is not bright.

“Our dystopia is coming for you,” she said at the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday.

Ms. Ressa has put her life and liberty at risk exposing government corruption under Rodrigo Duterte, the authoritarian president of the Philippines. She has been arrested, faces numerous legal battles at home and needs permission from authorities to travel, including to the United States to see her parents.

Winning the Nobel Prize has shined a light on her difficulties. But the political struggle in the Philippines persists for reasons beyond local politics, and she believes it is an indicator of what may lie ahead for the United States and the world.

Ms. Ressa said the dangers she faced had been greatly exacerbated by the way Facebook operates, which amplifies division and misinformation, she said, ultimately leading to increased polarization that affects elections. “Polarization is built into the recommendation engine for growth,” Ms. Ressa said.

She pointed to the Facebook Papers, a trove of thousands of internal documents — including those that describe Facebook’s research about its impact on users — leaked by the whistle-blower Frances Haugen. Ms. Ressa asked, “What happens when social media has been optimized — in the words of tech — to the point that it is now a behavior modification system where information operations are changing us?”

Ms. Ressa said that when Rappler started in 2012, she had high hopes for Facebook. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” she said. “I thought we could use technology to jump-start development, to help build institutions bottom-up. It was pretty good up until 2016.”

But then, she said, she started to notice changes to what type of information the platform amplified. Rappler began tracking the connection between the social media giant and current events such as Brexit, the election of Emmanuel Macron in France and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

“I went to Facebook in Singapore with the data that we had that was quite alarming,” she said. “And I gave it to them and thinking they would do something immediately, so we could do the story, because we were partners. And they didn’t.”

A few months later, Rappler published a series called “Weaponizing the Internet,” and Ms. Ressa says she was bombarded with about 100 messages an hour. “When you expose the machine,” she said, “the machine comes for you.”

But Ms. Ressa said she did not believe breaking up Facebook was the solution, because other companies use similar algorithms. Instead, she pushed for regulating the algorithms.

Algorithms, she said, are contributing to an erosion of democracy worldwide, not least in the Philippines, where presidential elections will be held next year.

“This is existential,” Ms. Ressa said. “We are like right at the precipice. And if we don’t get rule of law back in these elections, I don’t know what will happen to us.”

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I think what it highlights to me is the huge opportunity. General Motors is so undervalued, and as we start this wonderful period that we are now in because we invested over three or four years ago in electric vehicles, with the Ultium platform, as the Hummer comes out yet this year, as the Lyriq comes out early next year and it’s just a steady run, we’ll have our own battery plant up and running next year. So I’m just excited to get all these vehicles out to leverage the men and women of General Motors and the manufacturing talent that we have. So I see it as a huge opportunity for General Motors to capture significant more value. But do you look at these valuations and say this makes sense to me? Do you say this makes no sense to me? You know, I don’t look at it that way. I mean, I look at every competitor as somebody that I respect and that we have to be better, be faster, have vehicles that consumers want to have, solve the ownership equation. And so that’s the way I look at it. And I would say, if anything, it motivates me to work even harder.

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General Motors made more than 10 times as many cars as Tesla last year, and significantly more profit. Yet Tesla has a market value of about $1 trillion, more than 10 times that of G.M.

At the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday, G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, said that didn’t bother her. She said she was confident that G.M. would eventually be rewarded in the stock market for its investment in electric vehicles.

“General Motors is so undervalued as we start this wonderful period we’re in because we invested over three, four years ago in electric vehicles,” Ms. Barra said.

Investors’ attraction to companies focused on electric vehicles was demonstrated anew on Wednesday when shares in Rivian — whose production so far is paltry — began trading at a valuation higher than G.M.’s.

G.M. is in the midst of a plan to spend $35 billion from 2020 to 2025 on electric vehicles and self-driving technology. The company plans to develop 20 new electric models for the United States market, overhaul its factories to churn them out and produce battery packs in high volumes with its partner LG Electronics.

“We’ll have our own battery plant up and running next year,” Ms. Barra said. “So I’m excited to get all these vehicles out. I see this as a huge opportunity for General Motors to capture significantly more value.”

She noted that G.M. aimed to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. “We are full steam ahead,” she said. “We are full E.V. ahead.”

The first of the new generation of electric models will be a GMC Hummer pickup truck, followed by the Cadillac Lyriq, an electric sport utility vehicle.

“I’m waiting for my Hummer,” Ms. Barra said. “I managed to get my name on the list.”

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But there are a lot of sectors of the economy, which are critical to supporting modern life that aren’t easy to decarbonize, where we don’t have good solutions, and frankly, that’s where I think, you know, a company like ExxonMobil can bring value by bringing the technology capabilities that we have to bear, to see if we can’t find ways and introduce solutions that can help bridge that gap between what’s needed today and what we want for tomorrow.

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CreditCredit…New York Times

Darren W. Woods, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, made the case for his company to play a role in helping the global economy transition to clean energy at the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday.

“There are a lot of sectors of the economy which are critical to supporting modern life that aren’t easy to decarbonize, where we don’t have a good solution,” Mr. Woods said in an interview with DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Frankly, that’s where I think a company like Exxon Mobil can bring value,” he said, by finding ways to “bridge that gap between what’s needed today and what we want for tomorrow.”

Mr. Woods said he personally began to focus on climate change when he moved into an investor relations role at Exxon in 2001. “That became a much more explicit part of the job and the thinking,” he said.

As for the company’s public positioning on climate change, Mr. Woods argued that it had been “pretty consistent” with the general understanding of the scientific community. He defended a 2000 advertisement that Exxon ran in The New York Times titled “Unsettled Science,” which said, among other things, that it was “impossible for scientists to attribute the recent small surface temperature increase to human causes.”

“If you read that article in its entirety and you get to the bottom of it, basically it says enough is known today for companies and governments and people to start making changes to try to address the risk of climate change,” Mr. Woods said. He acknowledged, though, that the headline “might be something that people can talk about and use as an example.” Exxon was one of the companies named in a congressional inquiry in September about climate disinformation, after a secret recording made public in July exposed an Exxon official saying that it used “shadow groups” to fight climate science.

This year, Exxon lost a bruising battle with Engine No. 1, an activist investor that pushed Exxon to do more to address climate change and won three board seats at the oil giant in a shareholder vote. Mr. Woods said the rebuke had come amid “a confluence of events.” These included investors already questioning its strategy and the pandemic, “when the bottom dropped out of the market.”

Now, rapidly rising oil prices have bolstered Exxon’s fortunes. Some market watchers, including Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, have said rising prices are driven by the economy’s moving too quickly away from fossil fuels. Others believe price increases are a cyclical phenomenon that will eventually reverse. Mr. Woods said the two factors were “one in the same.”

“Ultimately, moving from what is a very efficient and effective energy systems to something new, it’s going to carry a cost,” he said of the shift from fossil fuels to greener energy sources. “And the question is: Can we get that cost down?”

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I think people’s bad ideas are best heard, because that’s when you find out how bad their ideas are. They’re more powerful when they’re silenced.

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CreditCredit…The New York Times

Dax Shepard, the co-host of the popular podcast “Armchair Expert,” doesn’t think there should be “rules on who you’re allowed to talk to” on public platforms.

And he has a large platform. Mr. Shepard and his co-host, Monica Padman, interview celebrities, professionals and other public figures twice weekly in what has become one of the country’s most popular podcasts. The show, which has roughly 20 million downloads monthly, signed a three-year licensing deal with Spotify in May.

In an interview about “the art of listening” at the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday, Mr. Shepard said that he welcomed conversations with all sorts of people, including — or especially — those he disagrees with. “I think people’s bad ideas are best heard, because that’s when you find out how bad their ideas are,” the actor and comedian said. “They’re more powerful when they’re silenced.”

Take Aaron Rodgers, the star N.F.L. quarterback who has faced criticism for his decision not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, evading questions about his vaccinations status until he tested positive for Covid-19.

“I would love to talk to him about that because we’ve delved into this issue nonstop since it started,” Mr. Shepard said about pandemic precautions.

He explained his own inclinations: “I am always suspicious of authority. I’m cynical, I think everyone’s got an intention,” he said. “I did all the right things throughout all of Covid: I quarantined, I wore masks. I got vaccinated, but my instinct was opposite. So, I would love to know why Aaron Rodgers truly has this position — more than what he might claim as his position.”

Ms. Padman said she puts her guard up during these tricky conversations. “We’re having very human conversations and everyone can come off sympathetic,” she said. “So I have some fear that if I can talk to someone who is doing something truly bad and we’re making them sound good — which is what we do, we make everyone sound good — I don’t know what that does.”

It’s a distinction Mr. Shepard said wasn’t necessary: “I think you can be very, very compassionate of criminals and also send them to jail when they do something wrong. I don’t think it’s an either-or.”

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Credit…Calla Kessler for The New York Times

As the head of Citadel, the huge financial trading firm, Kenneth C. Griffin is deeply immersed in the markets. And what he worries about the most, he said at the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday, is the effect that rising prices are having on markets and the economy.

On the same day that inflation data showed prices rising 6.2 percent in October — the fastest pace since 1990 — Mr. Griffin said rising prices were no longer something that could be ignored. “The theory that this is transitory is starting to get long in the tooth,” he said.

That is also affecting the stock markets, which by Mr. Griffin’s reckoning have become “frothy,” primed to overreact, particularly in stocks like Tesla that have experienced high volatility.

“We are seeing a market that is showing signs of real frothiness, and we’ve got some pretty significant stock price moves on relatively small events,” he said. “I worry about that.”

That, he said, will weigh heavily on the Federal Reserve as it considers when to begin raising interest rates to combat inflation, and how quickly. Until now, he said, policymakers have been “far too generous in their stimulus” policies. “They have not been targeted enough,” he said.

Other things on Mr. Griffin’s mind:

  • The financier defended payment for order flow, in which market makers — such as Citadel Securities — pay online brokerages like Robinhood for the right to process their customers’ trades. While the practice has been criticized for potentially leading to conflicts of interest, Mr. Griffin said that it had helped lead to lower trading costs for individual traders and that he opposed potential new regulations. “Are we going to go back to re-regulated markets and taking back the competition that has allowed Americans to save so much money when trading?” Doing so, he argued, would be “a tragedy.”

  • Mr. Griffin, a billionaire, opposed raising taxes, saying it would discourage innovation in America, citing Tesla’s Elon Musk as an example. “We don’t want tax policy to drive great entrepreneurs like Elon out of their seats,” he said.

  • He professed skepticism about the cryptocurrency industry’s promises, such as an ability to improve how we pay for things. “People are very focused in a world of new ideas and new creations. I love that part of America,” he said. “I worry that some of this passion has been misplaced when it comes to cryptocurrencies.”

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I think as an international community with all of the different actors involved, governments, companies, international organizations, we have fallen short of the mark when it comes to distribution and especially when it comes to equitable distribution. How can it be that in the United States and Europe, we have vaccination rates that on average are probably somewhere around 60 percent? In Africa, it’s under 14 percent. That’s not only wrong, it’s a huge problem because we know this, we keep repeating it. But it’s important to remember this, as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it’s going to be mutating.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for rich countries, pharmaceutical companies and others to “step up” to get the coronavirus vaccine to areas of the world that haven’t received many doses.

“How can it be that in the United States and Europe we have vaccination rates that on average are probably somewhere around 60 percent? In Africa, it is under 14 percent,” Mr. Blinken told Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit. “It’s not only wrong. It’s a huge problem.”

He pointed the blame, at least partially, on pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer, that produce coronavirus vaccines. “They have performed miracles,” Mr. Blinken said. “When it comes to distribution, with all the different actors involved — governments, companies, international organizations — we have fallen short of the mark.”

Mr. Blinken’s statement came on the same day as the United States announced a deal with Johnson & Johnson to distribute more doses of its vaccine to lower-income countries, including many in Africa. As part of that effort, Mr. Blinken announced the launch of a new tracker that makes it easier to see where vaccine doses are distributed.

Mr. Blinken also said vaccine distribution could have benefited if pharmaceutical companies had shared their intellectual property, allowing the vaccine to be manufactured in other parts of the world. This week, The New York Times reported that Moderna and the U.S. government are in a dispute over who should own the patent underlying its vaccine, which stemmed from a four-year partnership between the company and the National Institutes of Health. “I think it is critical that we do that for the next time,” said Mr. Blinken. “We have to go from, in effect, loaner-ship to ownership, so that countries around the world have the capacity to produce what’s needed on a regional basis.”

On Tuesday, Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, also speaking at the DealBook Online Summit, said that it was unfair to blame his company for the vaccine’s uneven distribution. Bourla said Pfizer had made vaccine doses available to any nation that wanted them, but rich nations had been quicker to put in orders.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bourla said that he and Pfizer had learned lessons from the distribution of the vaccine. For the company’s antiviral pill to treat Covid-19, called Paxlovid, Pfizer is working on a system that isn’t just first-come, first-served, Mr. Bourla said, adding that the company hasn’t finalized its allocation strategy.



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