Must try harder: Cameron gets C- for his trip to China
Cameron’s recent trip to China, using diplomacy to promote business is hardly new. British Embassies and High Commissions throughout the world have always promoted trade and her diplomats speak with abundant pride in assisting British companies do business in new markets. Their market intelligence, local knowledge of customs and culture is far superior to any private organisations.
Among the 50 strong delegation who accompanied David Cameron to China is a distinct absence of Chinese names. British Chinese businesses in the UK is flourishing and doing big business in China – property development, food technology, health care and travel and tourism, some with multimillion pound turnover, which could have opened more doors culturally and in terms of political and economic strategy. This was a lost opportunity.
The list is dominated by the CEOs of blue chip companies, where many of these already have regional offices in China and hardly needed this extra trade boost – would the £750 million Rolls-Royce and the £45m deal to export breeding pigs really not have happened anyway?
Britain does not make many of the goods China or any developing countries are interested in. If they want machine tools or engineering expertise, they will look to Germany or Japan, if they want wines, perfume or agricultural knowhow they will look to France. In fact, Britain sells less to China than Italy!
Chinese policymakers raised concerns during the visit about the government’s plans to introduce a cap on immigration. They fear it could limit visas for business executives and the 85,000 Chinese students in Britain. This is in stark contrast to Cameron offering India a say on plans for Britain’s new immigration policy when he visited India in July. We wait to see whether the Prime Minister will relax immigration rules to Chinese investors, employees and students.
So, what does China want from us? We are good in services – legal, financial, education, creative industries and of course, our world class retail shops.
A single trip coupled with all the noise and column inches in the media will not win the trade billions the Prime Minister is after. This is a long haul – trust and respect – two essential ingredients needed in any business relationships in the Middle Kingdom.
We also need to educate our people in the way China does business – language, culture, respect and customs. Mandarin classes should be encouraged and taught in schools. We expect overseas CEO’s or their representatives speak to us in English why shouldn’t the Chinese expect the same in Mandarin. Understanding Chinese companies’ corporate management structure is a challenge in itself – the most senior person or general secretary is not necessarily the most senior executive!
It is often said that the Chinese never forget, especially when criticised in public – “face saving” or “losing face” is in every Chinese genes – so be prepared to be cold shouldered if you offend the Chinese.
When Cameron said “we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran [and] we can’t be certain of the future in China”, this will be noticed by the Chinese. To talk about China – a permanent member of the Security Council – in the same breath as a rogue state like Iran – is an insult to the people of China.
The 2010 Queen’s Speech referred to an “enhanced partnership with India”, it made no specific reference to China – this must have agitated Beijing.
Therefore, has Cameron been ‘cold shouldered’ by Premier Wen Jiabao when he called Cameron’s major business delegation trip to China “fruitful”. This is hardly a ringing endorsement.
In coded language, Cameron told his audience at Peking University that, democracy and civil rights were the best guarantor of prosperity and stability. Every country tries to lecture China on human rights but these won’t suddenly materialise while half the Chinese population and members of its civil institutions still don’t know what human rights mean.
These countries forget that they had many centuries developing those values and norms. China is still a relatively ‘young’ country. First they have to develop their basic institutional structures, lift the social economic standards of its people, and have the resources in place before they can adopt these values. China will do things their way and no amount of lecturing will change the status quo. We need to be patient and not expect immediate social transformations.
Cancelling bilateral DFID aid to China which seems a perverse attitude to a country we are seeking so hard to influence, and when we are talking about modest amounts of money sent to underdeveloped regions where some very good work has done.
Germany, Japan followed by France are the largest donor countries, is it any wonder that these countries are the biggest beneficiaries of China’s economic boom.
Like any good salesman, Cameron must totalled the volume of business generated from this trip. Other than those announced earlier, a paltry sum of £2 million of new business is hardly much to shout about. This must hurt compared to when Hu Jintao, the Chinese President signed agreements on deals worth $20 billion when he visited Paris earlier this year.
All he gets for this China trip is a C-, must try harder.
Sonny Leong is Publisher and Chair of Chinese for LabourTagged in: British Embassy, china, david cameron, Hu Jintao, Peking University
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