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Domestic success in business leads to efforts internationally. It’s like when a football team wins the league and then competes against the big guns. This can be energizing or ominous (perhaps even both), depending on your perspective. Le Corre and Sepulchre here document in terrific detail the advances in Chinese business into Europe. Their emphasis seems to be that China’s international advance is rather threatening. (One chapter is titled “Spreading The Tentacles, Opportunistically”). But it should be remembered that the UK and then the US, following the success of their Industrial Revolutions, exported people and capital around the world, often for good, sometimes for ill. The most illuminating chapter is “The Challenges of Acculturation”, where the authors examine the difficulties Chinese business face with their European acquisitions, and how Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo have in their various ways tried to adapt to new circumstances. (Lenovo comes out best).

Just as Henry James made the trans-Atlantic traveller a familiar figure in literature, as American business went international, Chinese business faces a clash of cultures as it goes beyond domestic familiarity. This time the gulf is perhaps larger than ever before, but as the authors demonstrate, we live in a much smaller world where communication and feedback can be instantaneous. If China’s business leaders – especially the up-and-coming young managers, most of whom have studied abroad – can adapt as speedily the country has economically, we may enjoy some fruitful partnerships. The alternatives do not really bear thinking about.

Published in Business Tianjin

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