Blogs & Comment

China: Corporate diplomacy

Chongqing, midnight.

Those trade mission delegates who continued on to Chongqing from Beijing arrived this evening, settling into the swank and modern InterContinental hotel. It is situated right in the midst of the downtown cores tall, neon-lit buildings, which rise up from the hilly peninsula formed by the Jialing and Yangtze rivers.But looking outside my 23 rd-floor window now, I see the towers lights are almost all outenergy conservation, perhapsand the streets appear quiet.

The bus ride here from the airport was unusually short, because thousands of taxi drivers are striking (China Daily published reports this morning that some smashed windows and damanged police cars while protesting over increased operating costs, shortages of natural gas, high traffic fines, and the governments lack of efforts to stop unlicensed taxis). The route took us along windy, hilly roads lined with lush trees, but we could peer beyond them into the darkness to see endless, and mostly unlit, blocks of apartment-style towers. The locally based tour leader told us over the PA speakers that more than a thousand buildings 20 floors high or more have been constructed in the last eight years, and clearly, more are in the works. The guide also told us Chongqing is 82,000 square kilometers in sizelarge enough that from the center, you could drive two hours and still not be outside the municipalitys boundariesand that the population is more than 31 million people, making it the biggest city in China by two measures.

From my dim view inside a bus, Chongqing does not have the polish of Beijing, or at least the Beijing most foreign business people see now post-Olympics in its business and diplomatic districts. Beijing was built on a grid around the square Forbidden City; Chongqing was little more than a fishing village by the rivers, as the guide put it, until the Chinese government made it the countrys capital during the Japanese occupation in the late 1930s and 40s, and is laid over rolling hills and amidst two major rivers.

Earlier, while waiting for my luggage to arrive on the conveyor belt, I resumed a conversation with Trevor Taylor, PCI Geomatics director of strategic sales, whom I met on the shuttle bus to the Beijing airport. PCI Geomatics, which is bsed in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, signed two of the big deals of the mission, both of them letters of agreement, which is a high level than the somewhat meaningless than the dime-a-dozen Memorandum of Understanding, because it starts to establish the framework of any final contract.

PCI Geomatics makes large-scale, half-million-dollar software and systems for geospatical imaging applications. Taylor has never been to Chongqing, although the company has been in China off-and-on for some 15 years under Taylors stewardship, mostly selling smaller (but still pricey) desktop software packages through a value-added reseller agreement. But now it has opened a Beijing office in order to have a presence to sell to government agencies the larger packages and services.

Taylor acknowledged that the reason he is along for the mission was to support the Ontario government, so that it knows who we are when the time comes for the ask. His signing in Tianjin last week of the letters of agreement afforded Premier Dalton McGuinty to make another speech, and to tout the $600 million in contracts that have been signed during the mission. As cynical as that sounds, Taylor was supportive of trade missions, noting that while the Canadian public often doesnt look fondly upon these missions, the country needs to export its goods and servicesWe have to get out there, he said. PCI Geomatics gets 75% of its revenues outside Canada.

Just about then, a couple boxes of Nunavut soapstone carvings glided past us on the luggage conveyor belt, likely gifts for Chinese dignitaries. We brought Zippos and ice wine, Taylor said. Something like two-thirds of Chinese smoke at least once a day.

For Taylor and the rest of the Ontario contingent, who have been touring China for about a week and a half, tomorrow is their last day. But my impression is that many of the representatives of the major companies have already moved on, satisfied that their presence was noted in Beijing. It will be a much smaller group by the time we get to Shanghai Thursday.