By William Franklin – Founder at China Investors Club 中華投資者俱樂部
Attending the 48 Group Club awards at the Chinese Embassy just before Christmas I was offered as a gift a series of books by Embassy staff. Eager to learn more about Chinese political philosophy and “what joins and divides China/UK relations” I received the books with the intention of reading over Christmas.
Trends in China – a series
This series of books was edited by Wu Li and Zhang Zhuoyuan was the chief consultant. While I would not put them up there alongside John Grisham as page-turning poolside reading, I quickly discovered that the texts gave real insight into Chinese political and philosophical thinking. Below are some of my observations.
Manifesto vs Business Plan
The first book I reviewed was “Social System Reform”. It took me the first chapter to realise I was reading something akin to a Business Plan rather than a manifesto. As the text was published by the Beijing Times Chinese Press and given to me by Embassy staff I fully expected the contents to be heavily political and full of self-praise. While there was undoubtedly a positive slant to the books, they were able to include direct and oblique references to the struggles and challenges facing China as it becomes a “moderately prosperous society”.
Compared to the UK political party manifestos that we democratically vote for every 5 years but then find they are impractical or simply aspirational, the Chinese approach is much more structured and results based. Addressing areas such as Education, Employment, Business Start-Ups, Distribution of Income, Social Healthcare, Pensions and most interestingly the slow reduction of involvement of the Chinese Government in micro issues in the economy. Each of these areas had facts and figures backing the last 2-3 FYPs and then specific objectives for the next period in question and you got to feel that they all fitted with the long term goals of the country and not just the next election cycle.
Of course it helps that the one-party system in China means that once a decision is made it can be implemented quickly, but surely this is much more closely aligned to the private business sector in the UK. You create a strategy based on research then implement it while keeping a watching eye on the changing economic environment. As such, one can see China implementing its strategic plans around infrastructure such as high speed trains opening up 2nd and 3rd tier cities, airports and the aviation sector offering long distance domestic connectivity and rebalancing of water resources using new waterways.
One only has to look at the political football of the UK’s aviation policy where extension of capacity at Gatwick or Heathrow means all of us are spending more time circling these areas of congestion rather than speeding through them to develop more business. It is then one realises that Business Plans deliver more value than Manifestos.
Education is not everything
One example where China thinking is not always self-promoting is education where it was recognised that the drive to academic excellence has led to a shortfall in practical skills and inquiring thinking. We can see examples of this in the UK today where Chinese students achieve top scores in all their qualifications but have limited ability to apply them in the real world. However by giving them opportunities for internships and project placements with companies enables them to see the practical application of their academic learning.
The China Investors Club receives a lot of interest from Chinese investors looking to access the ‘inquiring’ mindset of UK engineering firms. Is it because the traditional Chinese approach to learning has been not to question the teacher and accept what is taught without inquiring whether it is the best way? My time studying Mandarin in Beijing gave me first hand experience of this approach and how hard it was for teachers to adjust to a group of ‘inquiring western students’. How long will it be before China implements a programme of polytechnics or practical skills colleges where free-thinking will be encouraged?
13th Five Year Plan – developing the strategy
Over the last year the outline for the new Five Year Plan (FYP) has been discussed at forums throughout China. As we enter the last few weeks before it is formally launched in March 2016, China has even gone outside of its borders to solicit feedback from other stakeholders including those in the UK as to how the plan should be developed. When I spoke to Ambassador Liu just before Christmas I asked him if he was aware of any UK participation in the FYP and he admitted that there had been none. He went on to stress that he would be happy to receive representations from any research functions, universities or trade groups with regard to the plan. Should anyone reading this post feel they wish to contribute then let me know and I can facilitate the discussion.
As I continue to digest the other reading material provided by the Chinese embassy I will share the findings. These can help to identify opportunities for further China/UK trade and develop further insights into the Chinese way of thinking. As always, your feedback is welcome as we continue in this Golden Period between our two countries.