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David Leven, Scottish Development International's head of Greater China, explains why building on our relationship with China can mean big opportunities for Scottish companies.

China Bank

I've been in China for two months now and I'm working on how Scotland can play an even stronger role in shaping China’s incredible economic story.

Rather than get into discussions about overall growth rates, it’s important to remember that China is a big place.

Some markets are declining rapidly, like steel, and many manufacturing regions are struggling with debt and how to embrace the emerging knowledge economy.

But many areas are booming. Change is being driven by sectors experiencing annual growth rates that would make our eyes water, for example insurance, clean technology, film, software and online retailing.

Read: New landscapes for doing business in China

Scale, pace and trust

As well as the need to be crystal clear on where the opportunities in China align most closely with Scotland’s strengths. I’d sum up how we need to approach China in three words – scale, pace and trust.

A beneficial relationship

Our knowledge, our experience, our technology and our premium goods and services are all things that China needs, wants and is prepared to pay for. And Scotland of course needs investment and new trade opportunities if it is going to become more productive.

David Leven, SDI

China thinks big and we should do the same if we want to capture its imagination.

China has transformed very quickly and now needs to find ways to deal with issues such as pollution, financial services reform and how to build up its healthcare system.

All of this provides massive opportunities for Scotland.

Our knowledge, our experience, our technology and our premium goods and services are all things that China needs, wants and is prepared to pay for. And Scotland of course needs investment and new trade opportunities if it is going to become more productive.

But we can’t hang about.

The time is now

The time for reaching out to China is now as the collaborative relationships formed over the next few years with Chinese investors are likely to influence investment patterns for generations to come.

Shanghai
Shanghai

As George Yip, professor at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and at Imperial College Business School in London, has said:

"China’s current business environment, including its acceptance of foreign managers, presents a great setting for companies to manage mixed teams with diverse backgrounds, and to cultivate future global leaders. To paraphrase Sinatra: Shanghai, Shanghai, if you can manage there, you can manage anywhere."

There is much more to do, although it’s great that we’ve seen significant investment from China in our energy sector, and also that we plan to bring some of our best companies to China in October to look for investment as part of the Engage, Invest, Exploit programme.

I’ve also managed to find time to build on the export success being experienced in the food and drink sector by hosting a very successful craft beer and spirits trade mission to Hong Kong. This brought a whole new meaning to the term 'take one for the team!'

Scotland's global capability

The relationships we have with China should, of course, be based on where we have genuine global capability.

Our university sector is leading the charge on this and our companies should follow their lead.

I often however hear the view from Scotland that China is too risky and difficult. And no doubt there are similar concerns raised in China as its entrepreneurs increasingly look outward and into territory that is uncharted for them.

We are working to make our Chinese visitors feel at home in Scotland, whether as a tourist, a student or in a business context.

We now have around 9000 Chinese students in Scotland and China inbound tourism is growing very fast through initiatives like the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group China Ready Programme.

Our China offices

It’s also very exciting that this summer Scotland will be hosting a delegation from the exclusive China Entrepreneur Club whose members run businesses that make up around 4% of China’s overall GDP.

The delegation is keen to meet Scottish entrepreneurs and to learn about our inclusive growth agenda and has already said it is open to a return visit next year from Scotland.

And Scotland will also host the UK China Britain Business Council SME Forum for the first time in September.

Think big, act quickly

China is very quickly building up knowledge and experience in international business and collaboration which Scotland can play a strong part in supporting.

There are also an increasing number of examples of Scottish companies trading successfully in China.

Let's make friends in China, build trust, think big and act quickly - and then good business will follow – this is the Chinese way and I’m loving every minute of it.

Ready to do business with China?

Our High Growth Markets Unit can offer specialist support to help your company make the most of opportunities in emerging markets like China:

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