Science - February 3, 2005

'It is the time of fast fish eats slow fish'

The Chinese alumni Zhang Lei and Ke Xiaodong are making it their business to close the gap between the Chinese and Dutch business cultures. They helped Alterra to make a master plan for the Wujin polder near Changzhou, working as interpreters but more importantly as go-betweens.

Lei and Ke have been involved in promoting the Dutch agro-food business in China since 2003. ‘Wageningen UR is the knowledge centre for this sector,’ tells Lei. ‘It was not an easy process, but we are very happy that both the provincial government of Gelderland and WUR appreciated our proposal for promoting them in China, and have given us a subsidy for a China Platform. We organised and joined two delegations to China in 2004 and are now busy following up the businesses.’

Lei is the director of China Flows Consult based in Holland. She also works with a Dutch company Aqua China Consult that is owned by the Dutchman Arno Luisman. Together the two operate as a group called Aqua China Flows Consult. Ke works from China as the China manager of their business. ‘I am now in the process of closing my company in Holland,’ explains Lei, ‘It is becoming more and more important to have a company based in Beijing now.’ Lei hopes that Ke and other friends in China can take over the daily business communication with the Dutch partner so that she can concentrate on her work in the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University. ‘I will focus more on strategic decision making,’ she says.

The first and most important step the Chinese alumni take is building mutual and personal trust in Dutch-Chinese relations. ‘In both cultures it is important to know something about the contact at a personal level,’ tells Lei. ‘I have often observed that each party believes that they are doing the right thing – of course in their own context it is right – but cannot reach a common agreement. Consultants like us can help to avoid this kind of misunderstanding.’

However, the Dutch and Chinese also share qualities. 'Both nationalities are good at doing business,’ says Lei. But Dutch companies will do better by adopting a more active approach to China. ‘China is a booming economy and Dutch companies should look at it as a business opportunity instead of a threat.’ But they have to invest time and effort. ‘Do not complain that the Chinese do not speak good English yet; it would be better to learn more Chinese. I believe it is more difficult to find a Dutch person who speaks good Chinese.’ Now is the time, according to Lei: ‘It is the time of fast fish eats slow fish.’

Lei is also one of the initiators of Food Valley China, but the goals of Food Valley China and the Food Valley Foundation in the Netherlands differ. ‘The Food Valley Foundation thinks we have gone too fast, and their focus now is on attracting investment into the region instead of promoting Dutch agro-food companies abroad,’ Lei explains the differences of opinion. ‘We hope to find a solution to this internal problem soon.’ / MW

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