NEW YORK — For Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, the 130 year-old American industrial behemoth, the financial crisis marked the end of the age of America’s economic dominance.
“I came to GE in 1982,” Mr. Immelt told me this week in Washington. “For the first 25 years, until the bubble crashed in 2007, the American consumer was the definitive driver of the global economy.”
But Mr. Immelt said the future will be different. For the next 25 years, he said, the American consumer “is not going to be the engine of global growth. It is going to be the billion people joining the middle class in Asia, it is going to be what the resource-rich countries do with their newfound wealth of high oil prices. That’s the game.”
A lot of that game will be played in China. At a moment when it is compulsory on the American right to pay homage to the exceptionalism of the United States, Mr. Immelt, a lifelong Republican, is matter-of-fact about China’s inevitable rise.
Indeed, reflecting this pragmatism, GE is this week signing a joint venture agreement in commercial aviation with a state-owned Chinese company that — despite any risk of handing over advanced technology — will mean sharing some of the most sophisticated airplane electronics.
“It is going to be the biggest economy in the world,” Mr. Immelt said of China. “The only question is when.”
Underlining this new reality, Mr. Immelt spoke after attending a White House summit of U.S. and Chinese CEOs, and before a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington.
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