Taking the Pulse of Non-acclimated Chinese Companies in Africa

By Laiyin Yuan

Author: Gui Tao
Translator: Laiyin Yuan
Published on: 09/28/2014
Source: Xinhua News Agency
Original text (in Chinese): http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2014-09/28/c_1112658554.htm

 

“Chinese always stay together like mercury, while Westerners spread everywhere like water.” In some circles, this is an accurate description for Chinese companies and their Chinese employees in Africa. Self-isolation, lack of effective communication with locals, ignorance of labor laws and regulations, weak awareness of social responsibility, and exhausting internal competitions among peers… these are all the “growing pains” that Chinese enterprises are going through as they look to create jobs and transfer technology for Africa’s economic development.

On September 27, in the “Chinese Enterprises’ Localization in Africa and China’s Africa Strategy Seminar” jointly held by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute of World Historyand the Center for African Studies of Peking University (PKUCAS), many experts, corporate leaders, and representatives of overseas Chinese in Africa looked for “prescriptions” to improve Chinese company localization in African countries.The attendees believed that, although Chinese state-owned, private, and individual enterprises have all contributed tremendously to a mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation between China and Africa, some of these organizations have left a rather negative impression among host countries due to Africans’ increasing awareness of autonomous development, biased reporting on part of Western media, their own problems, and more.

Not long ago, Lu Youqing, China’s ambassador to Tanzania, stated bluntly that, with the further development of Sino-Africa relations, some Chinese in Africa lack unity, legal awareness, and integrity, which is an embarrassment for many people who are dedicated to enhancing the friendship between both sides.

Zhang Hongshun, the Director of the CASS Institute of World History, said in the seminar that Africa is of great strategic importance for China and it is also an arena for Chinese companies to “go out.” It is crucial to have certain rules and norms to regulate the behaviors of Chinese companies in Africa.

Li Anshan, the Director of PKUCAS, expressed that Chinese enterprises should do their homework before going to Africa. They need to enhance their awareness of risk management and win-win outcomes, respect local laws and conventions, and understand the cultural differences between China and Africa.

Many Chinese entrepreneurs take it for granted that their African employees will be happy to get more payment for extra hours because of their already low income, but for most Africans who prefer freedom and a less labor-intensive lifestyle, working overtime is a violation to their right of rest.

Li Anshan also reminded the audience that localization is an important and necessary path for Chinese companies to develop in Africa.

Due to different languages, customs, work efficiency, and many other reasons, some Chinese companies in Africa prefer to hire Chinese workers, and the proportion of the locals among corporate management levels is relatively low. These are often criticized by Africans as “employment discrimination.”

Zhang Hongming, the Deputy Director of the CASS Institute of West Asian and African Studies, believed that Chinese companies are experiencing two separate phases – globalization and localization – at the same time as they are “going out”, which can easily lead to conflicts if the coordination is poor. For better localization in Africa, experts suggest that Chinese companies learn from the experience of western countries.

By the end of 2012, more than 2,000 Chinese companies have invested in Africa. China has been the largest trade partner of Africa for four consecutive years since 2009, and Africa is China’s major source of imports, the second-largest engineering contract market, and the fourth-largest investment destination.

Zhen Lihong, the representative of the Chinese Golf Association in Zimbabwe, indicated that the fundamental cause of Chinese companies’ failure in Africa is the lack of long-term planning to stay and develop in Africa. Because of traditional Chinese sentiments of homecoming, some Chinese only perceive of Africa as a hotel instead of a home, which prevents them from actually “rooting and growing” in Africa.

“We need to remember the word ‘respect’, and truly respect the people, culture, and history of Africa,” said Liu Debing, the former Chairman of China General Consulting and Investment Co., Ltd.

The Director of the Shanghai Normal University Center of African Studies, Shu Yunguo, suggested that Chinese companies should enhance person-to-person interactions, promote cultural exchanges, and strengthen the training of local employees in Africa. Economy and culture are both important “wheels” of Sino-Africa cooperation.[1]

Liu Haifang, the Deputy Director of PKUCAS, believed that Chinese enterprises in Africa need to pay greater attention to corporate social responsibility, combining their own growth with local development, and let locals share in the benefits of Chinese companies’ successes. For Chinese enterprises, this should be an internal demand for their own sustainable development rather than an outside requirement by others.

About Xinhua News Agency (http://www.xinhuanet.com/ )

Xinhua News Agency is the state press agency of the People’s Republic of China. Xinhua is a ministry-level department subordinate to the State Council. It operates 107 foreign bureaus worldwide, and maintains 31 bureaus in China—one for each province, plus a military bureau. Xinhua is the sole channel for the distribution of important news related to the Communist Party and Chinese central government.” (Wikipedia)

[1] Translator note: The “wheels” of China-Africa cooperation is a specific term used by Chinese officials when describing the relationship. For more information, see Economic, cultural ties “two wheels” of China-Africa cooperation: Chinese premier.

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