Evan Greenberg (Photo: Chubb) Evan Greenberg (Photo: Chubb)

Evan Greenberg — a member of a family that has spent decades negotiating with officials in China  — says the current U.S. approach to international trade is putting China in an even stronger bargaining position.

Greenberg is the chief executive officer of Chubb Ltd., which is the largest publicly traded property-casualty insurer in the world.

Evan Greenberg is also the son of Maurice Greenberg, who, as the chairman of American International Group Inc., began persuading Communist China to open up to outside financial services companies in 1975.

The recent U.S. move to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union is “deeply counterproductive,” Evan Greenberg said last week in New York, at an insurance conference organized by S&P Global. “It abdicates leadership and is isolating our country.”

(Related: US-China Trade Tensions Are Making Endowments and Foundations Nervous)

The United States seem to be acting as if trading with the United States is a privilege, Greenberg said.

“Countries are not companies,” Greenberg said. “They are sovereign nations. We should treat them with dignity and respect.”

Greenberg, who was speaking to an audience of money managers and investment analysts, brought up some of the same points he made in a letter to shareholders he put in Chubb’s annual report.

At the S&P conference, he also expressed new concerns about the U.S. relationship with China and Mexico.

Greenberg said he believes the best way for the United States to address its remaining concerns about China would be to team up with countries such as Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia that have similar issues.

“This would encourage China to act, in its own interest, to address our mutual concerns, since its prosperity relies on access to all our markets,” Greenberg said. “Our trade actions with allies are working against this possibility. China knows it. We’re supporting their ability to divide and conquer, undermining our own interests.”

Greenberg said that the new U.S. approach to trade makes people in other countries feel threatened, and that an increase in the level of fear is leading to an increase in populism and protectionism.

Greenberg noted that Mexico is holding a presidential election in July.

Greenberg said that the recent increase in tension has helped push a nationalist presidential candidate to the top of the polls in Mexico.

“Is that what we want?” Greenberg asked. “Does this create a safer, and more prosperous America?”

— Read also, on ThinkAdvisor: Greenberg Calls U.S. Prettiest House in Shabby Neighborhood.

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