Learning about China and it’s Culture at the Insight China Preparatory Seminar 2019

By Philippe Muff, PR Team Insight China 2019

As a public event, the Preparatory Seminar not only aims to prepare the Insight China delegation for the subsequent On-Site Seminar in China but also welcomes visitors from in- and outside the University as well. Thanks to numerous high-profile speakers as well as engaging workshops and discussion panels, the participants gain key knowledge for understanding today’s China.

The first day was filled with presentations and workshops revolving China, such as its history, language and culture. Among the workshops was Qi Zhu-Ammann’s, Managing Director at Confucius Institute at the University of Basel, where she gave the participants a brief but essential introduction in the Chinese Language, its pronunciation intricacies and regional differences.

The following Tuesday comprised of several notable guests—the Chinese Ambassador to Switzerland, his excellency Geng Wenbing being the first. He talked us through the history and evolution of China, by highlighting the developments of China since the Opening Up and Reform efforts, when China has entered a new era in 1978. He continued by explicating how the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921, and in 1949 the People’s Republic of China came into being. Moreover, to mark the 100th anniversaries of these two important dates, the CPC set goals that are to be met by 2021 and 2049.

Read all about the speeches, workshops and discussions of this year’s Preparatory Seminar on the Insight China website. Highlights included an interview with Uli Sigg; a panel discussion with Nico Luchsinger (Asia Society Switzerland), Martina Fuchs (CNN Money Switzerland), Michael Jeive (FHNW) and Thomas Christ (Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce) and a speech of the Chinese Ambassador to Switzerland, his excellency Geng Wenbing.

Ambassador Geng Wenbin

By 2021, the goal is to “build a moderately prosperous society in all respects”. This essentially means making sure that China’s development improves the lives of all its people, particularly those who are below or near the country’s poverty line.

After the speech of Ambassador Geng Wenbin

By 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China, the goal is to “build a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious”.

Staying on the topic of history and diplomacy, the next guest Mr David Braun conducted a speech about the Swiss-Chinese relations. Mr Braun is the Regional Coordinator for East Asia at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. He stressed that “China’s rise is a renaissance and seeking cooperation and addressing differences is important. Giving a final message to the students, he cited Albert Einstein, “The only source of knowledge is experienced” and encouraged us to study and experience China further.
The morning continued with an interview of Dr Uli Sigg, businessman, art collector and most notably, Former Swiss Ambassador to China conducted by Insight China Project Team member Nadine Hitz. She inquired about his positions as ambassador, education in China and his motivation for curating Chinese contemporary art. 

On the question where he sees the difference between Swiss and Chinese students, he underlined that the Chinese students are extremely ambitious. Consequently, for Chinese families, even the choice of the kindergarten is carefully made and going to University is viewed as essential for the young Chinese population to succeed. His visit was then concluded with an open and insightful Q&A session. 
In the afternoon, Mr William Leigh-Pemberton, the Strategic Development Director at Bertschi AG, presented the opportunities along China’s New Silk Road and the details of the Belt and Road Initiative. He explained the challenges of doing business in China and how success is achieved in the eastern region. He emphasized one such challenge for the west—that China is a fast-moving economy. To win in China, Mr Leigh-Pemberton advised that companies should respond quickly to customers and that a highly motivated and content team is crucial to succeeding.

On Thursday, Dr Heinrich Siegmann of the organisation SwissBanking kicked the day off with a presentation with facts and figures about China’s efforts in internationalizing their currency and foreign financing endeavours. He explicated how China already contributes to around one-third of total world economic growth and that by 2012, more than 10,000 financial institutions worldwide were doing business in RMB, manifesting the currency’s dominant position in the global economy. Furthermore, globalization would not have been possible without competitive and growing banks in China. 

Afterwards, the seminar resumed in the afternoon with Thomas Christ of Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce joining us. He showed that Switzerland is seen as an innovative and highly organized country by Chinese people. He described the assumption that Chinese people are good at copying things but added that Chinese are also better in organic innovation because they create cheaper and more high-quality products. However, in terms of disruptive innovation, China has potential. Consequently, people are becoming more afraid of China and the question for the future arises—if we need to be wary of the dominance of China or embrace it.

The Insight China Team with the panellists Nico Luchsinger, Martina Fuchs, Thomas Christ and Michael Jeive

The last event of the day was the panel discussion between Nico Luchsinger, Co-Executive Director of Asia Society Switzerland; Martina Fuchs, CNNMoney Switzerland TV Anchor; Michael Jeive, Head FHNW China Centre Research and Consultancy and Thomas Christ, who previously held his presentation. The first matter at hand was China’s positions in the world stage, where our panellists discussed geopolitical motivations, economic benefits and international relations. The latter part of the panel then touched on the subject of challenges and outlook for China, discerning its imminent problems such as slowing growth, sustainability and moral questions regarding their foreign investments. 

They further discussed how the protectionist policies of the US endanger its dominant position in the world stage and that the remaining developed world might further lean towards China. Furthermore, China’s motivations regarding its economic expansion efforts and investment strategies remain opaque and pose an important and complex topic. The panellists also talked about Chinese M&As in Switzerland and the passivity of China regarding influencing Swiss businesses, surmising possible motivations.

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