As part of the 10th Anniversary celebration to mark the first Confucius Institute, Iris Cai this week gave the annual lecture on doing business with China. Founder of Positive Speaking and head of the China desk with London lawyers The Legal Partners, Ms Cai made the point to an audience of students, faculties and business people that you don’t access a society that took 5000 years in the making, overnight.
The formerly Guangzhou-based WPP Group executive and 5 Live Chinese teacher and business culture expert based her talk on the Dao-derived philosophy of modern commercial China, and the way it can guide UK exporters and cultural stakeholders in a successful dialogue with Chinese commerce and industry.
“There is genuine desire and readiness in China to do business with the UK,”
explains Cai enthusiastically. Britain too has a headstart because there is an entrenched perception in China of the UK as an elite country. China refers to England as Ying Guo, meaning Elite Country. And UK products are respected there for their quality, creativity and innovation.” (Iris explains further in this video on exporting to Asia).
Exporters globally have reacted differently to the awakening market of 1.4 billion Chinese consumers, some being quicker off the mark than others. But many brands with market-proven products and services remain hesitant.
“A potent Chinese proverb says Right Time, Right Place, Right People,” explained Ms Cai. “At this time China is a cash-rich consumer market; that is time and place. It is finding the right people that takes time and care, and makes UK exporters more hesitant than anything else. You cannot cut corners on identifying the right agents and distributors because that can turn your China strategy into a nightmare. More than any other factor, this people aspect has proved to be the key to business success in China.”
An innate knowledge of the People’s Republic that can come only from being a native allows Cai the ability to deliver insights that clarify rather than confuse; enable rather than ensnare; give confidence rather than give pause.
British government trade bodies and ‘export-engine’ UKTI are very active in enabling exporters to initiate business relationships, so there’s an added incentive.
With the right in-country partners at the negotiating table, dual-government support and shared commercial interests in common, the final component to put into the mix is a mutual business contract that works for both Chinese and UK partners.
“The contract is really just the last 20% or so of the process,” explains Richard Mullett of The Legal Partners. “Iris Cai is a game-changing asset to a specialist practice like ours. It means businesspeople can focus on their core skills of technical knowledge and building that all-important trust with new partners, knowing they’re legally safe and covered.”
Iris Cai herself said in the annual lecture: “The Chinese legal apparatus is long and slow. Forward-moving businesses are best off without having firsthand experience.”
The first Confucius Institute was launched in 2004 in South Korea as part of an overseas initiative by the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing (also known as Hanban). The University of Leeds was selected by the CI Headquarters as one of the UK hubs in November 2012 in partnership with the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. Leeds was identified by the Institute’s management as being a location in Britain with outstanding potential for growth as a commercial and cultural centre.
According to the Confucius Institute’s operations manager Ellen Wang, Iris Cai was chosen as the ideal presenter of this year’s Lecture, owing to her connection with UKTI and CBBC (China Britain Business Council) China initiatives, as well as consulting roles with private sector exporters like Leeds-based Hainsworth (a brand that features prominently in luxury goods brands now exporting to China).
NOTE TO EDITORS: The Legal Partners are members of UKTI Advisor Network, helping exporters and inward investors between UK and Asia. Iris Cai and Richard Mullett have presented often to UKTI market teams on doing business in China. Legal contracts in China are getting more important as the country’s economy grows and becomes more sophisticated, and as the Chinese government moves towards establishing its rule of law.