Warm welcome for China's business elite

Updated: 2012-08-03 08:55

By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)

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Warm welcome for China's business elite

The China Business Summit brought together British and Chinese experts in areas such as branding, design and global consumer demand. Courtesy of China Entrepreneur Club

Leading entrepreneurs visit britain to develop links and learn

It's not often the British government rolls out the red carpet for a foreign delegation that doesn't include a head of state or political leader.

But when the elite of the Chinese business community come calling, exceptions are made - especially with a UK economy stumbling through a double-dip recession.

Recently, 30 members of the 44-strong China Entrepreneur Club went to Britain on a visit to "lay foundations and seek new opportunities for business cooperation".

With the combined revenues of the CEC members' companies totaling around 256 billion euros ($314 billion), their hosts were happy to oblige.

Meetings took place with Prime Minister David Cameron, London Mayor Boris Johnson and UK Trade Minister Lord Green among others.

"We represent the whole Chinese private sector, which creates most jobs in China," says Liu Chuanzhi, founder of China's largest PC maker Lenovo and chairman of the CEC.

Trips were arranged to Goodwood and Cambridge, as well as around London, where delegates visited companies and institutions including Rolls-Royce, Virgin Group, the University of Cambridge and the House of Lords, and held in-depth discussions on the global economy, sustainable development, technological innovation and other issues.

While learning from the UK's long mercantile experience was the major aim of the Chinese entrepreneurs, exploring future opportunities was in the interests of both sides.

At a breakfast meeting between the Chinese entrepreneurs at the luxury Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, Yu Minhong, CEO of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, exchanged a few words with Jacob Rothschild, the England Rothschild Capital Partners president.

"I said to Rothschild that the Chinese enterprises here are very young. I hope these companies are still developing 500 years later," Yu told reporters after the meeting.

Liu added: "We should learn (from the UK) how to develop commercial civilization based on institutions.

"European enterprises may be more mature in management, while Chinese entrepreneurs may have stronger initiative."

Private enterprise "drives innovation and brand building" which is "very important for China" in its next stage of economic development, Lord Mandelson, former business secretary in the UK government and trade commissioner of the EU, told China Daily.

"I think in China the State-owned enterprises have privileges which lessen their innovation and their entrepreneurialism, and their drive to build brands. In rebalancing China's economy, we need to see a continuation of strong State-owned enterprises but also stronger backing for the private enterprise sector," he says.

Commenting on current commercial ties between China and Europe, Mandelson says there was "huge Chinese interest in European and British brands, in which they want to invest".

"Also huge opportunities to take British and European brands to China to refresh. I think that is a very major area of collaboration and partnership," he says.

The weak economic climate in Britain and Europe, coupled with the pound at its strongest level against the euro for nearly four years, is forcing companies to accelerate the drive into emerging markets, according to the Financial Times.

The UK's non-EU exports recently exceeded those to the EU for the first time, and goods exports to China rose 26 percent in the three months to May, compared with a year ago. Exports to France dropped 9 percent, to Germany by 2 percent and to Italy by 20 percent, according to data from the UK's Office for National Statistics.

Torsten Muller-Otvos, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, said when receiving the influential CEC delegation last week: "Rolls-Royce continues to grow sustainably, and China is very important to this ongoing success story. Chinese customers understand the Rolls-Royce brand, they love heritage and they also have a deep understanding of the value of craftsmanship and skills that are passed down through many generations."

In 2011, China became the leading sales region for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars worldwide for the first time, narrowly beating the US to top spot.

More luxury brands from the UK are trying to expand their presence in China. Fashion house Alexander McQueen on July 28 opened its second store in China, on the busy Nanjing Road in Shanghai. CEO Jonathan Akeroyd says the group is looking to increase its retail presence.

The first shop, which opened in Beijing's Sanlitun in November last year, has been "very successful" and "surpassed all our expectations", Akeroyd told the CEC delegation.

Mulberry, recognized for its highly crafted fine leather goods since its founding in 1971, also plans to open seven stores in China in the next two years, according to non-executive chairman Godfrey Pawle Davis.

Mulberry has one store in China at present.

The CEC members' visit reached a climax on July 27 when a China Business Summit drew together British and Chinese experts in areas such as branding, design, and global consumer demand. They also looked at the architectural solutions, and smart and green technologies for cities of the future.

Noting the event as "a clear commitment to further strengthening the UK and China's relationship", British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the UK had been working to increase the already strong bilateral ties with China, expanding cooperation and adding 60 new staff across the Foreign Office's China Network.

In 2010, the UK and China agreed to double bilateral trade to $100 billion (81.7 billion euros) by 2015. Last year, bilateral trade stood at more than $70 billion.

In figures announced by UK Trade & Investment last week, China moved up to third place as a source of inward investment projects for the UK.

African interest

Although the CEC members only visited the UK this time, they have attracted interest from Africa.

"Africa has a lot of potential for investment in energy, rail, road and infrastructure," South African Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba told China Daily after flying to the UK to meet Chinese entrepreneurs.

"We need about $93 billion to address our infrastructure needs on the African continent," he says. "Working in partnership with China, with Chinese State-owned enterprises as well as Chinese business in general, we can achieve a great deal for Africa to develop economically."

Gigaba says there is "a very strong interest" in his country from the Chinese entrepreneurs he met.


(China Daily 08/03/2012 page3)