While for many China remains a distant and alien land, nonetheless its presence has been increasingly felt ever since the tumult of the Mao-era came to a close and Deng Xiaoping ushered in an period of reform and opening up that has proceeded unevenly ever since. Of course this would inevitably come to be about more than the proliferation of the symbols of Western capitalism throughout the country or how China converted itself into the workshop of the world; today we are at a point where China stands at the vanguard of what is being referred to by many as the ‘Asian Century’. What started out as a hum in the early 2000s has by now developed into a fully fledged roar as Chinese consumers, politicians and businesses make an impact across the globe.
Most noticeably, and this development has attracted a certain amount of ire from some quarters, is the surge in tourism from Chinese nationals that has seen them take first place in global tourist spending. The stereotype is of busloads of tourists being ferried from one, sometimes obscure, sight to another with detours to shopping outlets in order to pick up vast quantities of Luis Vuitton and other luxury brands. Certainly when I was taking a flight from London Heathrow back to Shanghai earlier this year there was no shortage of shopping bags adorned with these logos, but it would be a mistake to think that this picture of Chinese tourism is the whole truth or will remain static, particularly amongst the so-called post-90s generation. There is also the notable trend for young Chinese to go on overseas study trips, with the primary focus being on improving their English language skills.
Chinese companies too have been looking to increase their dealings abroad, a process that began in earnest in the 1990s when state-owned enterprises began selling a portion of their shares on overseas stock markets. In this year alone, several businesses have been looking to flex their financial muscle internationally: takeover bids have been proposed by Fosun Group and Shuanghui International for France’s Club Med and the USA’s Smithfield Foods, respectively. The Dalian Wanda Group has also looked to extend its foreign business interests into cinema, real estate and even yacht making.
In some cases, this is an attempt to by the companies to build their brand globally, the idea being that the acquisition of a respected foreign brand will somehow boost the company’s own, without it having to go through the kind of slow, incremental brand building exercises that Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese companies have done in recent decades.
The reasons can also be more prosaic, as in the case of the Smithfield acquisition. Although in part motivated by the hope that they will gain some of a Western meat producer’s lustre, which contrasts with China’s own beleaguered food industry, Shuanghui’s bid stems in part from China’s voracious appetite for pork. With an ever-growing demand for resources and a greater need for prestige globally, it is likely that these foreign acquisitions will continue into the future.
Individuals have also been looking to invest abroad, although primarily in real estate, with property in the USA, Canada, Singapore, Europe, Hong Kong and the UK being the most popular. For many this represents a better option than those available domestically and the tangible nature of brick and mortar also has an appeal to Chinese investors. Perhaps more importantly, global real estate also offers investors options. For many, these property purchases give them a foothold in a foreign country, a foothold that they feels allows them to secure an education for their child, protect their wealth or to secure ease of travel.
Domestic concerns also drive this tendency, with the country’s notoriously bad record with regard to pollution and food safety providing the impetus for moving abroad. Such is the appeal of emigration that according to the 2012 Hurun Report, China’s rich list, 46% of millionaires were considering leaving the country or were in the process of doing so.
This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed, and several high-profile real estate companies from Europe and North America have opened up offices in the country, while local companies have also emerged promising the assist investors in their search. Several governments have also got involved, tailoring immigration schemes to China’s nouveau riche looking to take their assets abroad; the preponderance of number eights in the titles of Australia’s various immigration schemes are a not so subtle hint as to who the government is targeting.
Buffeted by the Eurozone crisis, Europe’s southern and eastern nations have looked to resuscitate their economies, and particularly their property markets, by tying permanent residency status to real estate acquisitions in the country. Up until recently I worked for a real estate company that, amongst other things, facilitated purchases in Bulgaria, the primary interest in this country for Chinese investors deriving from its EU status and the access this would give them to the rest of the continent.
China’s going out into the world then potentially offers a great amount of opportunity for members of Generation Y to make their way in the world. As these companies and individuals venture out, they will need people with an understanding of local markets and conditions. My former company is instructive: in my office there were young graduates, recruited in part for their local knowledge, from the UK, Ireland, Mexico, the USA and Australia developing contacts and experience in the real estate industry.
To be clear, some of these opportunities will be less fulfilling and may simply involve polishing copy destined for English-speaking markets, but even there chances for progression might still exist. It can work the other way too with foreign brands and businesses eager to attract this outbound interest, and those who have a working knowledge of China have the potential to use that to assist these companies and organisations. For those with a foothold in China and other countries, opportunities to link them potentially abound. Of course, by developing a range of location independent digital skill sets you will be unstoppable as an international professional.