Day 3: Oh, you don’t speak English

Today was an early start! Our driver arranged to collect Fran and I from the hotel at 7:30am to begin our program.

First up on the agenda was a meeting with Derek Low, head of Beca’s operations in China. Beca, a New Zealand engineering firm, operates a number of offices throughout Asia. Derek spoke to us predominantly about Beca’s operations in China – the sheer scale was amazing. Huge complexes combining commercial, retail and residential areas were the norm, but I was personally more impressed with the importance of corporate responsibility to Beca.

Take Myanmar for instance: as the country continues to open up, more and more engineers are required to build and transform the nation. In order to assist with this, Derek spends a week of every month on the ground in Myanmar helping to train young engineers and bring them up to international standards.

The effect the leadership change in China is expected to have on Beca’s business was surprising.  Derek said that government plans to significantly raise standards over the coming years for the million plus developers operating in China. Currently safety is poor here, with Derek estimating that 80% of construction sites would be shut down over safety breaches in New Zealand.

Following Beca, Fran and I made the trip to the temporary New Zealand embassy in Chaoyang. Our embassy is being rebuilt, so New Zealand is currently occupying the former French embassy. Once there, we had a meeting scheduled with our Ambassador to China, Carl Worker, along with Ivan Kinsella of NZTE and Si’alei Van Toor, First Secretary at the embassy.

The embassy is gearing up for a significant visit to China by Prime Minister John Key in coming months to celebrate the 40th year of diplomatic relations with China. We had an in-depth discussion about how preparations are going for the visit before turning to the contemporary political and economic situation here. All three offered perceptive and detailed explanations and I came away from the meeting having learned a significant amount.

Our final formal appointment of the day was at the National Academy of Economic Strategy, part of the China Academy of Social Sciences. This was certainly interesting. Upon arrival we quickly discovered that there didn’t appear to be an English speaker available to interpret for us. Uh-oh. Thankfully, the Director of the economic strategy academy was tracked down and with his help, we managed to talk with Associate Professor Xia Xianliang. Funnily enough Feng Lei, the translating director, had plenty to say himself about Chinese foreign investment and what looked like a disaster quickly turned into a great session with two very knowledgeable think tank experts.

We wrapped up the day with a drink at the stunning Millennium Hotel. Kea’s Nick Wheeler joined us and following a couple of Tsingtao’s, it was time to call it in and return to the hotel following a very long, albeit productive day.

Tomorrow is a day on the programme I’ve been looking forward to since long before arriving in China. A group of international investors working on building Beijing’s answer to Hollywood are taking Fran and I out for the day. They’re going to talk to us about their plans for the movie business in China as well as taking us on a site visit. It should be an experience at the very least!


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