Here is a link to China Daily.
China, EU need to overcome five communication challenges to build a low-carbon future
China and the European Union (EU) are in many ways the perfect global team to develop low-carbon solutions.
The EU is the only grouping of developed countries where serious discussion about a low/zero carbon society by 2050 is being held. Furthermore, the EU is in urgent need to refurbish much of the infrastructure that was built after World War II and needs new low-carbon solutions to do so.
Among the emerging economies, China is arguably the most important, not only because of its size and economic development, but also because of a long-term vision and innovation-based approach to low-carbon development. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) is ambitious and China has two very important roles to play in the global economy.
First, it will be seen as a provider of high quality low-cost low-carbon solutions to the rest of the world. Second, China will be seen as the place where a new urbanization is born, an urbanization that is resource efficient and low-carbon. Such urbanization would not only help China move up the value chain but also drive global low-carbon innovation.
Below are five key communication challenges for low-carbon companies that should be addressed to unleash a joint low-carbon leadership of China and the EU built on their respective strengths.
1. Image of aggressive dragon One of the most difficult communication problems is that many people in the EU have been influenced by the image of China as an "aggressive dragon". This image is a big obstacle as many entrepreneurs and important stakeholders hesitate to contact Chinese companies. So even before there is a communication challenge, the image of the aggressive dragon has resulted in many missed opportunities.
Chinese and EU companies must be more visible together to show the gains that result from collaboration. Media and policymakers in the EU have a significant responsibility as the language and images they use influence the image of Chinese companies in the EU.
2. Unbalanced knowledge
The average Chinese businessperson in the EU is knowledgeable about Europe's history, politics, food and literature. But the average European knows almost nothing about China. This is slowly improving, but only recently did most universities in the EU start to include China in the curriculum in a more comprehensive way.
In the case of larger companies from the EU, they often state that they have been in China for decades, or make similar statements, to highlight their Chinese experience. These companies tell the truth, but they forget to tell that it is equally true that 99 percent of the staff in these companies often don't know who even top leaders are, or can name more than four Chinese cities.
Chinese companies must start by treating Western people initially as if they have no knowledge of China. Today, many Western people are just nodding without understanding what the conversion is about, and sometimes that can result in a situation where people from the EU feel that Chinese businesspeople are difficult to understand. Similar things happen the other way around where EU companies must remember that while Chinese companies know many things about the EU, they are often unaware of ethical rules and what is required to become a trusted partner in the EU.
3. Two-hand business card Simple cultural differences - such as food, greetings, gift exchanges and the way to sit during negotiations - are hiding the more significant differences. Today, too many companies spend a lot of resources to learn basic culture behavior, just to ensure short-time business success. Understanding simple cultural differences can help communicate, but much deeper cultural understanding is needed, than that you hand over a business card with two hands in China.
The poor cultural understanding results in simplistic approaches also by Chinese companies. Some Chinese solar companies, for example, hear that they should communicate on environment and think that they only need to communicate that they pollute on the same level or less than Europeans to be environmentally credible. Again, this communication is too simplistic and more is needed.
Companies are expected to also present their positive contribution in the EU. Chinese companies must know and communicate how much CO2 they have helped reduce in the EU in collaboration with EU companies and how many new jobs they have helped create by providing parts of smart low-carbon solutions. They must learn to communicate much more than the technical data, they must explain their positive role in the EU.
4. The guanxi challenge Chinese companies in the EU often don't understand the need for a broader network of supporters. Guanxi, or connection, is as common in the EU as it is in China. It looks a little different. It is less discussed and business people don't refer to their contacts in the same way as Chinese businesspeople do in China. Still, networks are at least as important in the EU as in China.
As low-carbon development is a highly political issue, it is very important for Chinese companies to understand how they can provide policy support to low-carbon solutions. In the EU, Chinese companies should ensure that they are in regular contact with those who work with low-carbon development and that they keep them updated to progress in different kind of collaborations. Here it is also important that Chinese companies understand the important role of non-governmental organizations and engage with them.
5. The vision and passion Chinese low-carbon companies, especially solar companies, play an important symbolic role in the relationship between China and the EU. But Chinese low-carbon companies are often seen as only focusing on making money and selling the cheapest solar panels at any cost. Few in the EU are aware of the fact that some of the Chinese solar companies are led by passionate visionaries for global low-carbon development.
The exhibition in headquarters of companies such as Trina Solar, Suntech and the displays in Baoding, a solar power city in North China's Hebei province, should be brought to the EU so that people understand that the vision of a sustainable future is something that they share with Chinese companies. The CEOs should also ensure to participate in policy dialogues in the EU.
These five challenges will take time to overcome, but we need to start now and within one year leading low-carbon companies from China should have done the following in collaboration with stakeholders in EU:
- Calculate and report how much CO2 they have helped reduce in the EU in collaboration with EU companies.
- Calculate and report how many new sustainable jobs they have helped create in the EU in collaboration with EU companies.
- Present how they support innovation in collaboration with EU companies.
- Present policy positions where they give suggestions for what kind of collaboration in the EU would help to deliver new, smart low-carbon solutions.
- Help support and accelerate the low-carbon domestic market in China and invite EU (and other) companies to help in this work.
These initial steps will allow the China-EU collaboration to move to the next level and avoid increased tension and trade conflicts that we will not be able to totally avoid. We will see more exciting collaboration with concrete results that will help deliver the solutions we need and support a collaborative culture.
It is urgent to act now. And we hope better communication is demonstrated at COP17 (the 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in South Africa later this year.
The author is the director of UN Global Compact's Low-Carbon Leader Project and founder of the initiative, China's Global Media Image, which will launch a website later this summer.