By Scott Murdoch and Matt Scuffham
HONG KONG/NEW YORK (Reuters) -JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said on Wednesday he regretted his remarks that the Wall Street bank would last longer than China's Communist Party.
U.S. banks have identified China as a major opportunity for future growth and executives normally go to great lengths to ensure that they do not upset Chinese authorities.
"I regret and should not have made that comment. I was trying to emphasize the strength and longevity of our company," Dimon said in a statement issued by the bank.
Speaking at a Boston College series of CEO interviews on Tuesday, Dimon said: "I made a joke the other day that the Communist Party is celebrating its 100th year – so is JPMorgan. I'd make a bet that we last longer."
"I can't say that in China. They are probably listening anyway," he added.
JPMorgan has major ambitions in China and in August won regulatory approval from Beijing to become the first full foreign owner of a securities brokerage in the country.
That move had been seen as a milestone in the opening up of China's capital markets after years of gradual moves and pressure from Washington.
Beijing sees the involvement of foreign banks as important for China's domestic financial development, academics say. However, Western companies doing business in China still need to tread carefully.
"Dimon's apology shows the degree of deference foreign businesses have to show to the Chinese government in order to remain in its good graces and maintain access to the country’s markets," said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.
Asked about Dimon's comments in a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "Is it really necessary to cite such remarks that are merely to attract people’s attention?"
Swiss bank UBS ran into trouble in 2019, after a remark by one of its senior economists about food inflation and swine fever was interpreted as a racist slur. He was suspended for three months and UBS lost a plum role on a bond deal for a state-backed client.
Earlier this year, Swedish fashion giant H&M's Nike Inc faced a backlash from Chinese state media and ecommerce platforms after expressing concern about allegations forced labour had been used to produce cotton in Xinjiang.
"The Chinese government has amply demonstrated its willingness to curb or in some cases shut down foreign businesses' operations in the country if they challenge the government openly or even engage in perceived or indirect slights," said Cornell's Prasad.
A JPMorgan spokesperson said that Dimon had acknowledged that he should "never speak lightly or disrespectfully about another country or its leadership."
"During the discussion Jamie made clear China and its people are very smart and very thoughtful."
Saying he regretted the comments comes a week after Dimon was granted an exemption by the Hong Kong government to visit the Chinese-controlled financial hub without needing to quarantine.
Visitors to the city from most countries must stay in hotel quarantine for two to three weeks at their own cost.
Dimon was in Hong Kong for 32 hours after arriving by private jet.
Global executives typically choose their words carefully when discussing China, where foreign companies have occasionally been subject to backlash for perceived offenses.
Dimon has had to backtrack before from public statements critical of others.
In September 2018, Dimon was speaking at a conference and said he could beat President Donald Trump in a campaign because he was smarter than Trump.
And, Dimon added, he had earned his wealth and did not get it from his father. Within an hour Dimon released a written statement saying that he should not have made the comment and he added that his original comments had proved that he "wouldn't make a good politician."
(Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Anirban Sen in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, David Evans and Marguerita Choy)
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