最近我在The China Law Blog上看到一段Youtube视频链接，内容是与此有关的一个演讲，题目为“在中国经商的五大挑战”。演讲人是业内广受尊重的专家、Control Risks大中华区及北亚执行董事Kent Kedl。
布鲁斯学会曾在2011年出版了Ken Lieberthal教授的《管理中国挑战》一书。书中，Ken Lieberthal教授探讨了外国企业了解中方潜在合作单位或相关政府机构的汇报关系（如领导关系、业务关系等）的重要性。这类信息并不算作机密，虽然没有摆在明面上，但只要有心打听还是可以获得的。这对了解中方潜在合作伙伴或监管机构的组织架构很有帮助。
Year of the Snake: A Crossroads for International Business in China
Since this is my 4th post in a row dealing with the challenges which international businesses face in China, readers may think am overdoing it on this subject of late.
On the other hand, this is a historic moment in China’s 30-year opening and reform era. New leaders face a wide range of pressing challenges. At the same time, a younger generation of bright young Chinese are planning their career paths, facing choices which are simultaneously more numerous, more complex, and more confusing.
A review of policies and regulations dealing with foreign enterprises may not be among the top priorities of the new leadership at this moment, but many aspects of financial, economic and SOE reforms will have significant impact on the foreign investment environment. The consequences are worthy of careful consideration.
For younger people, the pendulum has clearly swung away from MNCs being employers of first choice, unlike five or more years ago. The competitive environment for top talent has become fierce. Like all markets, however, pendulums can and do swing in both directions, in due course.
Whether as a Chinese government policy-maker, a young person thinking about career directions, or a CEO evaluating potential business deals with foreign companies in China, it’s useful to consider how foreign companies view the current challenges of the China market.
Recently on The China Law Blog I came across a Youtube link to a good presentation on this subject: The Five Biggest Challenges to Doing Business in China. The presenter is a respected expert in the field, Kent Kedl, Managing Director for Greater China and North Asia, Control Risks.
The five big challenges he describes ring true for me. I’ve seen foreign companies stumble in China due to getting one or more of them wrong.
The first one Mr. Kedl identifies is clarifying why the company is coming to China in the first place. This seems a very simple question, but it’s actually not. If foreign companies rush into China just because it’s a big market, without a clearly considered and planned strategy, their chances of failure are high. The strategy also has to be agreed upon by a broad-based cross-section of top management, and not subject to 180-degree swings and roundabouts if things don’t go quite as planned within the short term. A longer term vision and plan is an enormous asset; the absence of one increases the risk of failure.
The second challenge is the lack of transparency in many categories of business-related information which companies would normally expect to have access to in other markets. China is far more transparent than it was 30 years ago, but foreign companies still struggle with the issue of insufficient or unreliable market data. There is also a risky gray area surrounding some categories of information which would be deemed market research in other countries but may be considered state secrets in China.
The third challenge Kedl identifies is related to the second, but does not concern market data per se, but rather the challenge of doing adequate due diligence on potential Chinese partner companies and individuals. As an ancient country with strong personal and family relationships which can span generations, a corporate landscape which has changed so dramatically in the past 20 years, and big differences from one region to another, China is a very complex environment. Failure to understand the nuances of the background to companies and individual relationships can lead to costly mistakes.
Kedl’s fourth challenge is understanding the changing role of government in business, and how it impacts rules, regulations, market access, investment incentives, etc. Before the open door, government, business, and media were essentially one and the same. Changing this has of course been part and parcel of the reform process. The broad direction has been to get government and the military out of business, and to separate regulators from active players in the market. However, the pace has been variable from one region and industry to another, and has involved experimental stages, with room for adjustment and fine-tuning. As a foreign company, you need to be well-informed enough to minimize unexpected changes in how the government impacts your business.
In Professor Ken Lieberthal’s excellent book “Managing the China Challenge”, Brookings Institution Press, 2011, he discusses the importance of foreign companies inquiring of their potential Chinese business partners or related state agencies about their reporting relationships (e.g. lingdao guanxi, yewu guanxi, etc.). This information is not considered secret, nor is it obvious, but it is openly available if you inquire about it. It is useful and important as a part of understanding the structural context in which a potential Chinese partner or regulatory organization functions.
Kedl’s fifth and final challenge relates to the fact that business in China is still very local and regional, and what works in one city may backfire in another. In other words, there is no “one size fits all” solution to navigating the regional complexities and variations of the business landscape in China. This issue is relevant for more foreign investors today than it was 5 years ago due to the rapid economic growth and importance of China’s 3rd, 4th and 5th tier cities.
The ancient strategist Sunzi’s dictum “Know yourself, know your enemy, and in one hundred battles you will be victorious” can also be applied to Chinese government policy makers, prospective business partners, and job seekers in this context.
Understanding the challenges which foreign businesses face in China, from their own viewpoint, represents an important and timely opportunity for all these groups.
The Year of the Snake will be a significant year for foreign companies to re-evaluate and fine tune their China strategies, reflecting on lessons learned as well as new policy directions.
The same will be true for Chinese companies going global. Both the inbound and the outbound roads involve complex challenges and fast-changing environments.
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