Quesnel business leader shares views of China

Chamber of Commercer manager Coralee Oakes provides insight into her recent trip to China

China is evolving rapidly and is incredibly modern.

Over the past nine days, I have been as professionally challenged as I have ever been in my career and my perception and stereotypes of China have been shattered.

Each of us on the delegation were tested and stretched in unique ways. In this environment, each of us on the delegation came together into one of the most dynamic teams I have ever had the good fortune to work with.

Our delegation consisted of Mayor Mary Sjostrom, Superintendent of School District #28 Sue Ellen Miller, Robin Hay Principal of our International Education Program and Todd Anderson from the School District.

From the city, Matt Wood joined us. We also had the Superintendent of the Gulf Island and representatives from Mission, Nelson and Kootenay International School Programs. This whirlwind trip had us covering a huge portion of China’s coast and introduced us to unique sub-cultures of China including Taiwan and Mongolia.

The government is investing mass amounts of money into infrastructure like roads, bridges and ports. What really stood out for me was the boulevards in all of the cities we visited were planted with excess trees, shrubberies and flowers.  Every city is blooming with beauty.

Our flight, May 7 took us into Shanghai, a bustling modern cosmopolitan city that is exploding at its seams.

My first impression and surprise is the large number of tourists from throughout the world.

We visited Bank Street and stopped by the Fairmont Peace Hotel and listened to the band that played there throughout World War II. The next morning, we were up early and went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world at one time.

I had visited Shanghai 24 years earlier as a student and was certainly not prepared for the significant changes in the city and country in general.  We boarded a flight and flew to Xiamen.

Xiamen has the distinction of being the most civilized city in China.

In 2007 the people stood up to their government against an industrial project that would have increased pollution.

They are uniquely sensitive to their environment.  It is a port city that hosts one of the most popular international marathons.  It also has a thriving film and television industry. Xiamen University is the most famous in Fujian Province.

In Xiamen, we had the opportunity to meet with several business groups. We met with David Jiang of Xiamen C&D Commodity Trading Company (Stock Code: 600153) a modern service-oriented enterprise.

By the end of 2011, the total amount invested by the company in assets stood at RMB 45 billion, and the annual turnover is over RMB 70.0 billion.

They received the honour of “Enterprise of the credibility of Grade AAA” and “Top 100 Listed Companies in China (No. 49 in 2011)” for successive years. They are looking at expanding an office in Canada and are looking at procuring lumber, especially since Russia has increased its export tariffs since 2008.

We then met with Xiamen Crown Economic Trade Co. Ltd. They are a national company with an export/import value of RMB 1.3 billion.  Among their businesses they export shoes, belts and seed food.

They are looking to procure grade A pine for their furniture manufacturing business.    They are seeking Spruce, Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Yellow Cedar. They are also looking to build houses and were wondering how they could access Canadian grade A wood.

That day we also met with Standard Wood, a company that is currently purchasing from Island Timber.

They are in real estate and with the growing population need to be building more apartments. They also produce furniture. They are seeking Hemlock, Balsam, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, Spruce.

The next morning we travelled to Xiamen No. Six Middle School where we toured and met with staff.

They are interested in student and teacher exchanges with our district. We met with several government officials and departed for Longyan.

Longyan is the fastest growing economy in China. It is rich in minerals. Its GDP has increased 13 per cent year by year.

The city government pays close attention to education investment. We were met with a very formal meeting with the mayor, deputy mayor, chairman of the federation of industry and commerce, secretary-general of Longyan Municipal People’s Government, Deputy Magistrate of Xinluo District People’s Government, Deputy Secretary-general of Longyan, Director of Longyan Municipal Education Bureau, Director of Overseas Chinese Affairs, Director of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and the Director of Longyan Municipal Project Centre.  Mayor Sjostrom and Sue Ellen Miller did an outstanding job introducing our city and education system.

The next day we traveled to Zijin Mining Group Company Ltd. with 20,000 employees. It is a large, state-controlled mine, is one of the largest gold mines in China and is the 5th largest producer of copper.

It is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Off site, in the community where all the workers live, they have a large University and Enterprise Centre with post-doctoral studies in innovation and geological research.

The mine has a large research and design team. They also have a four-storey geological and mineral museum which we had the opportunity to tour. It has an impressive display of fossils and mineral deposit displays.

On the wall they quote the importance of safety first with life more valuable than gold.  We had lunch with the CEO and Vice President of Zijin Mining Group. They were interested in learning more about the Canadian environment to do business in mining.

We visited Longyan No. Two Middle School which was a surreal experience. Students performed two amazing dance numbers, comparable to those performed at the Beijing Olympics.

The next day, we travelled several hours to Zhangzhou, a city famous for its history.  It faces the Taiwan Islands and they have close ties. They are the Chinese capital of canned fruit and cereals for export and are a capital for flowers. It is an excellent tourism city.

In Zhangzhou, we met with a number of dignitaries and I had the opportunity to provide a brief introduction to doing business in Canada.

We toured Zhengxing Wheel Group Co. Ltd., the largest producer of wheel rims in China and Asia. They have built two schools and are building a hospital that helps support their employees.

Sjostrom, Wood and myself had a private meeting with the CEO Mr. Lai. He is interested in diversification and wants to build the largest tourism attraction in China and is seeking B.C. wood.

He is also interested in discussing agricultural opportunities with us. They are also investigating a potential program in support of CNC and our nursing program.  He understands that health care will be the largest industry in 10 years and is making the commitment to educate new nurses.

That evening at a special dinner hosted by Mr. Lai he made the commitment to open a business in Quesnel and will be sending people over this summer to investigate.

The next day, we travelled three hours on a road similar to the Bella Coola highway to visit the Tulous, a world culture heritage site. This was perhaps the first occasion where one could experience what China used to be like. There were a few villages we passed by where people lived poorly. The Tulous are very ancient large round houses where hundreds of people would (and still) live today. They grow and were currently harvesting tea. The region is very mountainous and very green with trees.

We travelled the next day to Beijing where we met with Mr. Wang Fan, Chairman of the Beijing Yi Xin Si Hai Real Estate Development Co. He was the president and founder of Arehada Mines and Baiyinhanshan Mining and Metallurgical Group.  They have the cutting rights to 30 per cent of the trees in Siberia and has one of the biggest sawmills in China.

He also has considerable interests in mining operations.

Wang’s son is currently studying in Quesnel and Mr. Wang is interested in purchasing a copper mine in Central B.C. That evening, we also met with Beijing HYT Holiday International Travel Service Co. that owns an airline, motor coach company and other tourism assets.

He is interested in Canadian pine for the manufacturing of furniture. Wang would like to bring a group of investors to Quesnel this summer. We also discussed setting a partnership with our Universities around forestry, environmental studies and mining. There is also a Korean company interested in importing log homes.

We also met with IDP Education, the company that will be arranging international education programs. We met with several interested parents and the School District answered questions. Our trip ended with the most magnificent and culturally diverse evening of my life.  We went to the Russian section of Beijing and went to a Mongolian Restaurant (Wang is from Inner Mongolia). We were introduced to all kinds of new foods and drink.  I have never seen a table so filled with so much food in my entire life.

There were also three separate famous Mongolian bands that played for us. We were presented with a beautiful shawl of friendship and Mongolian tea as a gift.

This exploration delegation into China was both rewarding and successful.

It has certainly given all who participated much to reflect upon regarding the potential for future partnerships.

Our systems are very different and this dialogue provided a solid foundation for future partnerships.

Coralee Oakes is manager of the Quesnel Chamber of Commerce.