Vision for AmCham
Strained U.S.-China relations, slower economic growth, and, for many industries, a worsening investment and regulatory environment have created significant challenges for many American companies in China. As a result, AmCham’s role as an advocate for U.S. business and its work with the Chinese and U.S. governments has become absolutely critical. I have been working on China off and on for nearly 25 years and I don’t believe there has ever been a time when AmCham’s work has been more important or more challenging.
Having worked closely with AmChams in multiple countries around the Asia Pacific, I know the organization works best when there is a strong partnership between the board and the AmCham leadership team. AmCham functions best when the board does more than simply ensure the leadership team has the necessary resources and provides appropriate oversight—it also leverages contributions of individual board members in support of key objectives. Here are a few examples where board members can make a significant contribution:
- Elevating AmCham’s status in China and the US:Communication channels between the US and China have atrophied and there are high levels of suspicion and mistrust. AmCham’s independence, perspective, and insights enable it to speak authoritatively to policy makers in both countries and to help ensure they have an accurate picture of the situation on the ground—but we need to find new and better ways to communicate our message.
- Defending the relationship:Given the current political environment in the US, AmCham is one of the few organizations defending constructive engagement with China and making the case that a stable relationship is in both countries’ interests. This important work needs to continue and expand.
- Deepening local ties:AmCham members learned some difficult lessons during Covid, including that there is no substitute for strong relations with district and local governments. AmCham can build those relationships and help companies without large, dedicated GR teams to engage with them.
- Informing and educating:Members need greater insight into US-China relations, the Chinese economy, regulatory developments, and other critical issues. AmCham’s programs in these areas are strong, but we can continue to make them stronger and more accessible.
- Supporting all members:AmCham’s members are spread throughout the country. We need to ensure there is consistently strong support for members, wherever they are located.
AmCham is an indispensable organization and I am deeply committed to its mission. By serving on the board I can leverage my previous AmCham experience, my experience working with the Chinese and US governments to solve problems and build trust, my experience helping companies navigate this complex and unstable environment, and my deep pool of contacts in the U.S. and Chinese governments to serve AmCham and its members.
Sean Stein is the chair of Covington and Burling’s China Public Policy Practice, advising international businesses on political risk, public affairs, communications, and U.S. and China government relations. He regularly assists companies resolve acute or long-term issues in China and to navigate challenges caused by conflicting U.S. and Chinese policies and perceptions. Sean provides strategic advice to U.S. and international clients on market access, safety and security, risk, and compliance. International and Chinese media frequently cite him on matters such as U.S.-China relations, China’s economy, and emerging business and market trends.
Prior to joining Covington, Sean served for nearly three decades as a U.S. diplomat, including stints as Consul General in both Shanghai and Shenyang and in leadership positions at the former Consulate in Chengdu, the office of Chinese Affairs in Washington, DC, and various countries throughout the Asia Pacific. In these roles he formulated and led several key bilateral initiatives, including reinventing investment promotion, boosting trade, and expanding educational ties. Sean proposed and helped lead a presidential-level initiative to establish a China-US tourism year, which was credited with boosting two-way tourism by more than one million visitors. He also established a coalition of more than a dozen U.S. states to create a catalogue of potential investments in the United States for Chinese companies — the first of its kind. The initiative generated nearly $1 billion in investment in its first year alone, a record at the time.
Sean is also active in the business community and civic organizations. He is currently serving as an advisor to the Helen Foster Snow Foundation, an organization dedicated to building bridges between the United States and China and has advised numerous U.S. states on their engagement strategies with China.
He has a particularly long history of working with AmCham. In the early 2000s when the Sichuan authorities threatened to close the AmCham office in Chengdu, Sean helped negotiate an agreement that allowed it to continue to operate. Nearly a decade later Sean supported the establishment of AmCham in NE China. At present he is completing a second term as Chair of AmCham Shanghai. (His term concludes at the end of the year.) Now that he is based in Beijing, Sean would like to channel his energy and experience to serve AmCham China and its members around the country.