Books of the Year: My China syndrome

I have made three trips to China this year, having never been before, and I have fallen, if not in love, then at least into a deep fascination with this amazing country. Old China hands among my friends laugh at my new-found enthralment, predicting the inevitable disillusion to come. But at the moment, I'm reading everything I can get my hands on.

by Denise Kingsmill

Susan Shirk's China: Fragile Superpower is definitely a book that deals a dose of realism, outlining how China's incredible economic progress has produced great internal problems, which have led to enormous political sensitivity in its leaders. The challenge this poses to Western countries seeking to do business in China in negotiating acceptable diplomatic and political co-operation is huge. Each side has an understandable fear of the economic and political ambition of the other, and the tension this creates, combined with growing domestic unrest in China, is one of the biggest challenges of the leadership.

It's a popular view that the economic might of China is based on its huge manufacturing capacity and that it lacks creativity and innovation - something that it must obtain from the West. One businessman in a joint venture with a Chinese company said he felt more like a management consultant because his Chinese partners absorbed all his company's ideas and know-how while giving only the most limited access to Chinese customers and markets in return.

The perils of doing business in China are well documented in many business books, one of the most amusing and instructive of which is still Tim Clissold's Mr China, which describes his attempts in the early years of China's economic liberalisation to invest in various Chinese businesses. The frustration of his experiences threatened his physical and mental health but still offer relevant lessons to those dazzled by the 'opportunities' offered by China's vast domestic marketplace.

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