(Nov 27): In the excitement that often surrounds business engagement with China, it is easy to forget that this is not a one-way trade. We spend a lot of time thinking about business strategies, planning how to enter the China market or expand our footprint. Governments and businesses develop investment attraction strategies designed to bring Chinese investment into major projects and infrastructure.
Underpinning this is an unspoken assumption that China is a pot of gold with unlimited opportunities. It is a modern version of the Shanghai tailors’ dream. The dream of British cotton merchants was to convince as many Chinese as possible to add just one inch to the length of their shirts. If this was achieved, then the riches would be unbelievable. It is an unsophisticated dream, but at heart not too far from the way many modern businesses approach the idea of Chinese engagement.
However, the same is true from the Chinese perspective. They too have dreams of prosperity, or economic growth, of improved business opportunities and better living standards. Realising these dreams and aspirations required economic development and investment from foreign interests. Although China may appear to be awash with eager foreign investors, the reality is that much of this activity is focused on Beijing, Shanghai and the major tier- 2 cities. The rest of China remains largely unknown and this applies, in particular, to remote provinces.