Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bee in my bonnet

This is not in any way to toot my own horn, but to make a point. In the last two weeks, I have twice been introduced to big multinationals as a speaker about China and Japan. These are both companies with operations in China, and one is definitely a group you've heard of. Both times, the conversation has gone like this: The company and I chat about what kinds of issues I think are interesting going forward as China tries to move away from an export-dependent model to a more consumption-oriented economy.

They listen politely, express enthusiasm, and then say: many of our staff are in other countries, so we're not sure they're really interested in China. Or, to quote directly from an email sent to the person acting as my representative in this: "Alex sounds great! Very interesting background. Just thinking, as the audience is from all over Asia. It would be useful if it was something that has relevance/interest to people across the region rather than just those in China and Japan.” The other company mentioned that they had staff in South America, where staff definitely didn't care about China.

What amazes me is that anyone today sees economic and business issues in China as somehow only relevant within Chinese borders. It feels kind of moronic to repeat here, as I know my readers already know this, but pick a subject - commodities markets, cars, America's debt, industrial design, innovation, manufacturing, inflation or deflation - and China's fingerprints (and sometimes its whole paw) are all over it. Officially now the world's second largest economy, China is a driving force in most industries.

There is a debate underway about the gap in understanding or knowledge of each other between China and the US, or China and the West. The Chinese migrant workers I speak to don't have a very sophisticated understanding of the US, but I am starting to wonder how different this is from the executives at these big multinationals.

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