Two Case Book Examples of How to Run a Good China Engagement Program for Your Chinese Stakeholders, by Charles Qin
During Covid, contact between China and Australia stalled and many training programs were halted. While doing programs on zoom worked in certain situations, one of the main reasons for such programs is for both sides to develop long-lasting connections – face-to-face and to gain first hand experience in country. It got me reflecting on two types of engagement – successful in different ways. It’s time to rejuvenate these activities and to look back to effective strategies…
It was 2013, there was a new government in Victoria and our march to the largest market in the world was cranking up. I attended the Victorian Premier’s launch of the amazing 2013 trade mission to China. It was exciting to hear that of over 600 delegates, 30% had never exported to China before and one-third were from outside Melbourne. Apart from hoping to generate as many promising leads as possible, I had also been thinking, that to tap into the Asian (particularly Chinese) market, we needed to lift our aims and what we were offering – it was not enough to offer humdrum goods and services. China was undergoing rapid change 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 meant that we need to go beyond selling humdrum services and further engage with our Chinese stakeholders. The government was on board and the mission was a huge success.
At the same time, there was a lot of competition for China engagement and it seemed not a week went by and we were hearing about this program, or that visit… In particular, the Chinese market in Australia was 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 a lot for the “pleasure”. Over many decades we’ve assisted and supported various clients on similar programs – some are really successful and some are, unfortunately, not. With first-hand experience on two successful programs, it inspired me to write this article and share some of my thoughts on how to foster a long-term relationship with Chinese stakeholders as the shadow of Covid lifts and the relationship resumes.
City of Melbourne and Tianjin
One of the earliest and most successful programs is with the City of Melbourne. As some of you may know, Melbourne and Tianjin have been Sister Cities for over 40 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. 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 were numerous exchanges every year, as well as organised missions that help Melbourne businesses connect at multiple levels and regions in China. The Lord Mayor spoke about the importance of Melbourne’s relationship with China:
“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”.
In October every year for a decade, a handful of Tianjin executives were 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 masterminded the program and prepared training, site visits and work tailored to their needs. Confucius Institute provides a two-week induction and English Language training as well. Placements included organisations like the Port of Melbourne, universities, and several departments at the City which all dovetailed well with the delegates’ roles in Tianjin.
La Trobe Financial
Another good example was an initiative tailored to the financial services sector run by La Trobe Financial, which was widely praised because of the care taken in composition and relationship-building. La Trobe Financial established the La Trobe Financial Professional Placement Scholarship with the aim to establish and enhance relationships with up-and-coming executives in the financial arena in China. Executives from the banking and securities industry came for the six-week program to learn about Australia’s financial system.
The carefully choreographed itinerary took in presentations by organisations like the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, meetings with politicians and briefings by academics, lawyers and bankers. Delegates learnt about Australia’s governance, regulations, financial systems and markets; they developed cross-cultural understanding and gained experience working in Australia’s financial sector. The group also visited Canberra and Sydney and managed to fit in some fun with hospitality and sightseeing.
Chin Communications is proud to have supported both programs – as well as language help, we presented 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:
- 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
- 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
- Choose good presenters and use a mix of Chinese and English if possible – or see our point about Mandarin interpreters below
- 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
- Organise a farewell event lunch or banquet with gifts, speeches and good cheer (and tears if you’ve done a great job!)
- Delegates should present a report on their learning as well as important feedback to help improve future programs
- Some fun – do include some sightseeing, social events, invites to homes and make the visitors welcome
- 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
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!