Monday, July 12, 2010

The Chinese Connection!

There was a study tour coordinated and sponsored by The Chinese government, for Junior Caribbean Officials, during the date of May 17th and May 27th, 2010- the second of its kind for the region.

The trip was attended by delegations from the Free National Movement, the governing party of the Bahamas and the loyal opposition, Progressive Liberal Party, in addition to the Bajan delegation, from the opposition Barbados Labor Party.

I went as a member of the delegation from the Progressive Liberal Party. Having done some policy work for the party on economic, international affairs and trade matters in the past, as well as my background on such issues, I was a suitable candidate to attend the study tour in order to gather the information for the benefit of us all.

The trip was more than a fantastic experience. One in which I am very thankful to have spent time with such wonderful people from China and Barbados and my colleagues from the Bahamas and to have been asked to attend, overall.

We had some time for leisure, but it was strictly business for the most part. Even the tour to the cultural sites, had a very structured, business feel to it. And when I did have time for leisure, it was done in a way for us to see the Chinese culture first hand, rather than it being about fun and frolic.

“Party to Party Relationship Building”, pretty much sums the main theme for the gathering, and I commend the Chinese government for using this format for discussions, as I see it as helpful for all sides.

Foremost, this format is an attempt by the Chinese government to "stabilize" the environment for their investments and strengthen their diplomatic relationships in a very healthy and open manner, for the long term.

For an aspiring leader, diplomat or someone with a foreign affairs interest, the mode, style and presentation, as well as the setting of the discussion environment, could not have been any better.

In all, we visited three cities: Beijing, Wuhan and Xiamen. They were three very distinctively different cities and all with different flavor and styles.

Beijing is the administrative centre of China and very much a concrete jungle to a large extent. No special frills and no special distinction, other than it being very much about business and administration.

There were some signs of social life in Beijing, especially from the point of the mega market- The Silk Factory- to which one of our colleagues had turned us on to. Almost everyone in the market that had a space, or booth, spoke English. To my surprise, they also spoke several other languages- from Arabic to German.

The city of Wuhan, on the other hand, is in a state of physical development. You can see it as soon as you hit the airport. Large cranes, buildings being erected, lots of road work and large equipment everywhere. It wasn’t until after my trip, when I conducted background research, I found out that French investment in Wuhan for industrial and international business was so heavy. Apparently, over one third of all French investment in mainland China is invested in Wuhan- more than any other province or city, along with the other foreign direct investment China receives from Western companies and countries.

The last city, Xiamen, is a tropical delight and very much a tourist destination. It reminded me of South Beach Miami, Florida, in so many ways. It has more restaurants than Beijing and Wuhan, as well as the people are more trendy as well as the shops very westernized and upscale.

Xiamen is also a strategic port city, directly opposite the island of Taiwan. Hence, they do allot business with Taiwanese companies, and the relationship is very lucrative.

Through all of the sightseeing, we had to attend seminars about a number of issues- most of which is the Taiwan/Straights issue and how important Taiwan is for the Chinese people and government, especially to the city of Xiamen.

Thus far, the import volume in China from Taiwan is $30 billion (USD) and the export volume from China to Taiwan is $9 billion (USD).

Industries most involved in the cross straights relationship are: chemicals, hospital services, low to high technological devices, technological information services, software, the construction of physical facilities and other construction related equipment as well as the cultivation and exportation of fruits, with Xiamen playing a very strategic role in the overall economic success, as well as an important role in the cultural and political changes in mainland China as a result.

The top Chinese officials we had dinner and meetings with, were all concerned with how The Bahamas was handling this economic recession. They also shared with us what tools and strategies they had employed and planned to employ during this downturn. For example, they have initiated a 4 trillion (YUAN) stimulus plan that they have directed towards capital related projects, or "shovel ready projects", and services related upgrades.

A chief Chinese economist made mention that more inward investment is what Chinese economic regulators are looking for and increasing wages and domestic investment, is critical to sustainability.

We saw evidence of this with the Dong-Feng car company. They operate solely in China and have had increases in profit, over the last 4 years, of an average of 12% per year, even during this economic crisis.

I was especially curious about the system the Chinese have in place to ensure continuity in the local market for SME’s, considering that China is a Socialist country. I was made aware by the same economist that Chinese SME's face no such problems; because Chinese culture dictates shared responsibility with their business practices and that practice is culturally understood as standard practice. So, if one person falls within any given company, the social collective comes together to fill the void, rather than having companies shut down unnecessarily- so, in a sense, SME’s are on their own in terms of the state assistance, but a built in social/community system kicks in automatically and provides support.

My mind thinks on so many SME's in The Bahamas that fell due to the owner having passed on and not having a sound succession plan, or due to a failure in other cooperative measures, to keep business open. SME’s in The Bahamas and the region could learn well from what we learned about China and its growing SME sector.

So many other things we could have noted, but too little space in my column. If anything, I can safely say that I now have "people" in China.
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