Let's build on our business opportunities with China

'Monkeying around with culture'¦' was how my youngest son described my Immortal Memory at the Chinese British Business Council Burns Night last week.

Monday, 15th February 2016, 9:41 am
Updated Monday, 15th February 2016, 9:49 am
SBSR business Hans Waltl

I contrasted Burns with China’s famous 7th century poet Li Bai.

What is noticeable is that Chinese business leaders have far more insight into Burns than we have into Li Bai.

This was less important in recent times when China’s growth was over 10% but with a drop to 7%, we, in the West have to work harder. It is no longer enough to just sell, we now have to work out ways our products and services relate to their overall market and culture.

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This was emphasised when a recent business problem caused a Chinese customer to pull together all the participants of a deal, insisting on face to face meetings. The meeting included one of my Chinese clients. For a chartered accountant, January is not the time of year for international trips and I was “excused”. Worrying that this was to be to my client’s detriment I was reassured: “Of course not…. we have worked and laughed with you for over two decades, we know what your words mean; unlike with our American partners where we don’t know if the eyes and the words match.” The message was clear, in times of boom the ‘American way’ is great but when things go wrong the Chinese revert to Confucianism and its abhorrence of chaos.

These thoughts were emphasised by Lord Green in Edinburgh last week questioning whether China is in chaos. He concluded that it wasn’t and that was reassuring given the massive foreign reserve flows which are occurring just now. Whilst I doubt this robustness considering the unsophisticated nature of individual stock market investments, a comment resonated; the Chinese need to double and redouble growth to reach western levels within two decades and this seems to be a clear unified national goal.

Its relevance to the Borders?

With significant levels of Chinese students in Scotland there are massive tourist opportunities for both students and their parents, so perhaps some level of ‘mandarin on marketing’ and ‘tourist signs’ with some mandarin in our schools might be useful. The Chinese themselves achieved levels of this in the years before the Olympics with most taxi drivers in metropolitan areas speaking basic English.

Given the level of knowledge and enthusiasm for Scotland and Burns that I encounter time and time again – half the marketing job has been done.

Let’s build on it.