The agenda quickly changes from ‘how to outsource into China' to ‘how to get out of China', which illustrates the outdated thinking still embedded in many minds. This country is no longer simply an outsourcing destination for low-cost labour, but a driving force behind business globalisation, with companies increasingly breaking out from its borders and challenging the West.
Talking to executives of Chinese firms it's obvious that recognition outside their borders is perceived as a major obstacle to going global. I'm hearing that the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be the catalyst for brand awareness for the Chinese blue-chips, and this exposure on the world stage will be far more important than any revenues they can generate at home. Exposure means communications - and the need for these companies to do business in local languages will be crucial for global success - for both commercial and cultural aspects.
Although the country's booming uptake of technology is no secret, it's remarkable to hear the chatter on site: more Internet users than the US, broadband cheaper than in Boston, 400 billion SMS texts sent yearly and one delegate sent 400 SMS on Chinese New Year - a time of year when people normally visit each other. Everyone has a mobile phone - and these are increasingly MP4 based (being able to view TV through your phone).
Many Chinese are now experiencing the technology paradox of bringing people both closer and further away from each other. This is remarkable when you think that the country has only recently entered the mobile age. As a nation of 1.3 billion that is still relative immaturity when it comes to consumerism, China will without a doubt be a key driving force for globalisation over the coming years.
It's almost impossible to discuss globalisation without mentioning India, which still has an edge over China when it comes to the trust factor. Some vendors allow source code to be stored on machines in Indian offices, but not in Chinese offices. Software piracy is also perceived by western companies as an issue, and was discussed in quite some detail. Yes, piracy does occur and there was some debate in the corridors about how it affects enterprise software versus consumer software.
When talking globalisation, I'm also surprised by some people's lack of understanding of the commercial power of multi-culturalism. I hear about a foreign car brand in the US that markets itself in Chinese to Chinese people living in the US, but its competitor doesn't because it sees the affluent Chinese only as a small part of their home market. Companies who fail to anticipate the rise and expansion of emerging markets - and do business with them in their local language - will quickly end up on the losing end of today's globalisation battle.
There is no doubt that China will play a major role in shaping tomorrow's global business environment. However, as its organisations expand into new territory, cultural differences will be as challenging as the competitive landscape. To overcome this, they must communicate and market themselves in local languages and to the local cultures. The Olympics might put them in the global spotlight, but if they don't change their long-term communications strategies, there is a risk that the marketing torch will flicker and die too soon.
Chris Boorman, chief marketing officer of SDL International, was a keynote speaker at LISA China Focus 2007 in Beijing.