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Working with the Chinese: risk or opportunity?
April 2, 2015


Working with the Chine has become a must

Not so long ago, trading with China was a rare activity. The “missionaries” sent or posted to China by companies were very brave and admired as pioneers. Today, working with the Chinese has become a must as they are so numerous and so widely spread.

Increasingly rich, increasingly innovative and increasingly mobile, Chinese tourists can be encountered everywhere while investors from the country are acquiring shares in the equity of largest companies, as seen recently with PSA or ALCATEL Lucent.

France’s châteaux, art of living have long attracted them, and they still have great faith in our ingenious ideas to ensure the sustainable development of their country.

What are the risks?

In reality, the risks are now behind us. They have been replaced by a real danger: that of not viewing this rapid and subtle change as an incredible opportunity. Naturally, the Chinese market continues to offer enormous opportunities for companies but we must also prepare for tomorrow. XI Jinping’s government is seeking to free his country from its excessive dependency on foreign technology.

The Chinese domestic market

Benefitting from the thousands of instances of technology transfers which the Chinese state has imposed on importers over the decades, China is now becoming innovative thanks to numerous research and development centres created in the major cities.

As the Chinese learn and improve very quickly, this is not the time for us to rest on our laurels. Aware of the vulnerability which comes from an excessive dependence on exports, the Chinese government is working to quickly expand its own domestic market.

This turnaround in China means that we must view our cooperation in a different way. Apart from a number of luxury products which by necessity have had to remain French, many major examples of success in China have come from a move to Chinese design, adapted to the Chinese market. Without this effort to adapt, business can be difficult.

The Chinese in France

The opportunity to work with the Chinese also exists in France. As long as the level of insecurity does not keep the Chinese away, our country, which is seen as “friendly” (since the recognition of the People’s Republic of China by General de Gaulle in 1964) is sufficiently impressive to encourage them to come here. Certainly, their visits are often fleeting but it is to be expected that they will increasingly spend longer here to enjoy the country more.

A great opportunity is emerging and we must ensure that all links in the logistical chain, from the customs officer at Roissy CDG airport to the baker’s shop on the Champs Élysées make an effort to “welcome” Chinese tourists, meeting their legitimate requirements, making them want to return by encouraging them to speak highly of their stay when they return home. The teaching of Mandarin Chinese is likely to become a must in tourism training schools because although many Chinese master English, it is in their own language that real links can be formed and that the Chinese fully reveal their personality.

The great gap

Finally, whether working in a joint venture or as part of a Franco-Chinese team, the “cultural gap” between our two countries requires subtlety and flexibility on our part if we are to bridge it. Focused as we are on theoretical concepts, plans and objectives, we need to be pragmatic if we are to successfully address the areas which matter to them: the present and business.

Young Chinese admire creativity but find us complicated in that we firstly seek to analyse the causes of problems before solving them. Without an ability to recognise this major cultural gap, something which is not immediately perceptible, the French people working with Chinese find it difficult to understand them, quickly lose patience and therefore risk failure. On the other hand, practicing mental gymnastics of this kind is a great advantage when it comes to gaining extra flexibility and agility in all kinds of working relationships.

Philippe LAURENT, Akteos consultant

About author

Philippe Laurent

Philippe Laurent

After 15 years’ experience in the rail industry including five spent in China managing a metro project for the city of Shanghai, Philippe LAURENT is today involved in the training of and the provision of support for managers. His background in philosophy, his knowledge of working in industry and his total familiarity with Chinese culture enable him to effectively assist many companies faced with the practical difficulties inherent to multicultural teams. Among the training which he provides, that aimed at introducing future expatriates to Chinese culture is highly appreciated by business professionals and their families, thanks to his comprehensive, concrete and practical approach to cultural differences. As the author of a book on happiness at work, every week Philippe LAURENT writes a column for on the theme of management.

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