Don’t go the same route as Australia in the Asian Century; you need to do more than sell humdrum goods and services


Australian in the Asian Century has been archived by the new government, however our march to one of the largest markets in the world has only just started. Recently I attended the Victorian Premier’s official launch of the 2013 trade mission to China. It was so exciting to hear that among these 400 delegates, 30% have never exported to China before and one-third are from outside Melbourne. Apart from hoping that they generate as many promising leads as possible, I have also been thinking, for us tapping into the Asian (particularly Chinese) market, we need to lift our aims and what we are offering – it is not enough to  offer humdrum good and services any more. China is undergoing rapid change every day, and government and business needs are constantly changing too. And you have probably all heard it too many times, only those businesses that develop a genuine China strategy will stay on board for the ride. This means that we need to go beyond selling humdrum services and further engage with our Chinese stakeholders.

At the same time, there is a lot of competition for China engagement and it seems not a week goes by and we hear about this program, or that visit… In particular, the Chinese market in Australia is cluttered with “organisers” arranging training programs for Chinese delegates to make a buck, without much thought to actually delivering any benefits to the delegates who usually pay big bucks for the “pleasure”. Over the past 20 years we’ve assisted and supported various clients on similar programs – some are really successful and some are, unfortunately, not. Recently I have been invited as a guest to two successful programs, and it inspired me to write this article and share some of my thoughts on how to further foster a long-term relationship with Chinese stakeholders.

City of Melbourne and Tianjin

One of the earliest and most successful programs is with the City of Melbourne. As many of you know, Melbourne and Tianjin have been Sister Cities for over 30 years. The relationship is an icon for sister-city relationships around the world. The connection has benefitted Melbourne to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and created significant opportunities in both cities. For instance, Melbourne has been supporting Tianjin’s urban  development which is part of the important government agenda. As the most liveable city in the world,  Melbourne City has utilized its resources and expertise within this portfolio and assisted a  number of Melbourne urban design companies to secure business deals. Some of the key projects include:

  • Tianjin Economic‐Technological Development Area Stadium
  • Tianjin Binhai AFL Ground
  • Tianjin Haihe River redevelopment
  • Tianjin Astor Hotel retrofit design.

Other areas of partnership include education, biotechnology, health, sport and finance. There are numerous exchanges every year, as well as organised missions that help Melbourne businesses connect at multiple levels and regions in China. Recently the Lord Mayor spoke about the importance of Melbourne’s relationship with China:

“Over the past four years, our strong relationship with China has helped generate $850 million worth of business agreements including clinical and research work between major hospitals, development and construction work and a biomedical technology and investment alliance”.

Tianjin Leaders in Melbourne welcome Oct 2013
Tianjin Leaders in Melbourne welcome Oct 2013

In October every year for the last ten years, a handful of Tianjin executives have been selected to come to Melbourne for a work placement to learn about Australia and enhance their management skills.  The City’s Business and International Department masterminds the program and prepares training, site visits and work tailored to their needs. Confucius Institute provides a two-week induction and English Language training as well.  Placements this year include the Port of Melbourne, universities, and several departments at the City which all dovetail well with the delegates’ roles in Tianjin.

La Trobe Financial

Another good example is a newer initiative tailored to the financial services sector run by La Trobe Financial, which has been widely praised because of the care taken in composition and relationship-building. La Trobe Financial established the  La Trobe Financial Professional Placement Scholarship four years ago with the aim to establish and enhance relationships with up-and-coming executives in the financial arena in China. This October, six executives from the banking and securities industry have arrived for the six-week program and will learn about Australia’s financial system.

The carefully choreographed itinerary takes in presentations by organisations like the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, meetings with politicians and briefings by academics, lawyers and bankers. Delegates will learn about Australia’s governance, regulations, financial systems and markets; they develop cross-cultural understanding and gain experience working in Australia’s financial sector.  The group also visits Canberra and Sydney and manages to fit in some fun with hospitality and sightseeing.

Chin Communications is proud to support both programs – as well as language help, we present to each of the groups on topics such as Australia’s history, structure and government, education system and language and culture. Below are some of our pointers to construct and deliver a worthwhile China engagement program that brings benefits to both China and Australia:

  1. Canvas interest and applications by promoting your program and its benefits to your targeted community; choose dates that work for both sides; select candidates with a good fit who are up-and-coming
  2. Once you know the attendees, tweak the program/select workplaces which are relevant and ‘train’ them if necessary in managing Chinese delegates. Send the final program details in advance
  3. Choose good presenters and use a mix of Chinese and English if  possible – or see our point about Mandarin interpreters below
  4. Organise a welcome event and celebrate commencement with speeches and photographs in a formal way – it is a good networking opportunity with other clients and targets too
  5. Organise a farewell event lunch or banquet with gifts, speeches and good cheer (and tears if you’ve done a great job!)
  6. Delegates should present a work  and research report on their learning as well as important feedback to help improve future programs
  7. Some fun – do include some sightseeing, social events, invites to homes and make the visitors welcome
  8. Language – of course, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention a very  important item.  Interpreting of a high standard MUST be provided OR the delegates need advanced English. Without this, much of your valuable content will be lost and investment wasted. Think about your aims for the program in the first place.

Find out more about Mandarin Interpreting for Training Programs

Of course, investment by the Australian organisers in time and funds is necessary to pull off a successful program. Such investment may not be repaid today or tomorrow, but long term benefits and relationships will come and business will follow!