A great early-bird chat about China's expats
Our Monday Morning Motivation webinar with Janine Jakob aligned with questions I receive from executive coaching clients these days. Some of you might watch the recording, but those of you who would rather read them, here are my thoughts.
What is happening to China's expat community?
Expats will be much fewer even if foreigners keep coming, and the distinction is important for China, as I mention in the closing chapter of Dragon Suit. Expats are foreigners whose whole life in China is paid by employers: travel, homes, food, cars, cleaners, schools, doctors, entertainment and more. Foreigners are just that, and increasingly China's foreigners are from the global south including Thailand, Myanmar, India and Pakistan, and new allies like Russia. Economically speaking, that's a huge downgrade for China: expats are a source of inward investment, while many new arrivals will either seek opportunities in the local market or are in fact subsidised by the Chinese government as scholarship recipients, through Belt-and-Road projects and so on. The distinction already makes itself shown in China's FDI statistics, and I expect the trend to continue.
What is the "next China"?
"Where do foreigners go from China and why?" participants asked. One senior diplomat last week told me that due to its size, "China is still the next China", but foreign firms and talent do exit. Polls I saw by American and European Chambers say that a surprising proportion of former China expats move on to other Asian destinations rather than going home, and you can watch my YouTube video on East-East expat experiences here. Why? For exactly the same reasons as they moved to China a decade or two ago: those countries have the same combination of growing economies, markets and middle classes combined with developing infrastructure and still a lot of untapped markets to grow into. Lots of expats who captained their firm's success stories in China hope to replicate that model in India, Indonesia or Malaysia. Others, typically richer expats in service industries like law, consulting, design and high-end brands, move to Singapore: still in the same time zone and easily accessible from China, but without recent geopolitical interferences.
How can managers deal with geopolitical interferences in business?
Speaking of geopolitics: Whether I coach executives in Asia or Europe, do podcast appearances or speak at events, I get questions about how managers should deal with "this geopolitical thing" intruding the world of business. Since I come to coaching and consulting from diplomacy, I may get the question more often than others, but my advice is very simple. No, you needn't become a geopolitical expert if you run a pharmaceutical or automotive firm. But I do recommend following my usual coaching sequence of Awareness, Skills and Habits along a change management curve to make you more comfortable with unavoidable and irreversible changes in today's world of business.
Awareness: Admit and accept that politics stand in the way of global business now. Don't blame your boss, overseas team, client or "the Western media" for poisoning your relations with biases and propaganda. Learn from recently deceased Henry Kissinger's highly controversial legacy, and learn to have meaningful conversations with people with whom you fundamentally disagree. If your emotions cloud that ability, delegate communication until you recover.
Skills: Maintain your global network—it's more important then ever. Look around and find someone from a society you don't understand or disapprove of (usually it's the same thing), or at least someone who knows that society well. If it's China, or you're in China and have fears and grudges about Japan or the USA, go online, find a way around the Great Firewall and start a dialogue with someone from over there.
Habits: Starting conversations with strangers is never easy, but once you've done it a few times, it becomes a rewarding experience. Now, make it a habit to reach out every time you make a decision that involves several cultures or that dreaded geopolitics. With time, your individual connections across the globe will cascade together into a reliable global support network that most people do not have—but you will. Drop me a line if I can help.