Forkin's China Daily

This week Marketing Derby's Managing Director, John Forkin, is part of a delegation to China. Here is his daily blog



Friday 10th November - China - So What?

This is actually my fifth visit to China and yet the blog headlines this week - über-massive and mind-boggling - still reflect the surprise, shock even, of a first timer.

It's hard to overstate the pace of change here and impossible not to accept its impending impact on the world.

 Let me put it like this.

Imagine it's 1917 and you are given the opportunity to reach New York City in 12 hours. Once there, you can take a glimpse at an emerging America. You see a fresh country, confident it is about have its day. You return with a dose of respect and a sense we need to step up our game.

Useful or waste of time?

In a nutshell, this is how a trip to China in 2017 feels.

Historically, Britain prides itself on being an outward-looking trading nation. We appear to have lost some momentum and hunger but Brexit has put trade right at the centre of debate. Whatever happens, our trade with Europe will soon decline and the imperative is to find new markets. In this context, what better place to start than China?

Our mission this week therefore had two functions.

The first was to fly the flag for the Midlands.

The Department for International Trade sponsored a UK pavilion at the China International Industry Fair and a delegation of 50 people from across the region came to ensure the Midlands is on the radar.

Having commissioned KPMG, we launched a 3-year strategy, intended to support greater trade links between China and the Midlands.

It was a good start, given some official muscle by the presence of a cabinet minister, and we will soon meet in Coventry to look at activating the plan.

 The second objective was to further develop our local relationship with Hefei and Anhui.

In China symbols count, as business is based on longevity and trust.

Following an initial visit in 2016, by Derby City Council's Leader and CEO, progress has been remarkable. The past year has seen a number of visits in both directions. Only 2 weeks ago 27 delegates from Hefei visited Derby and the fact that 20 delegates reciprocated this week has been taken as a clear indication that we are serious.

In terms of tangible outputs small beginnings are starting to show.

Both City and County Councils have fulfilled their role in keeping the civic relations warm. Don't underestimate how important this is. This will soon result in a D2 envoy, based full-time in Hefei, giving us an invaluable asset on the ground.

Marketing Derby produced an investment brochure and film (in mandarin of course) with 20 example of investable options and we are starting to get early stage expressions of interest following the B2B meetings held this week.

Business delegates are all returning with hot contacts and tourism relations took a major step forward with first visits  likely in 2018.

The University of Derby has significant ambitions, having already employed staff in China and this week opened an office in Shanghai, with exchanges of professors and students already starting.

Also, Derby County has made a number of visits and again, sporting exchanges will soon begin.
In fact the Chinese delegates who came to Derby were still purring about their fantastic experience at Pride Park where DCFC hosted them as VIP guests at the recent Sheffield Wednesday game.

And so, as the headline what?

Well my answer is simple.

As the 21st century evolves cities like Derby, and in turn countries like the UK, are going to have to find a place, new ways of attracting jobs and investment.

Just as 100 years ago we could no longer ignore America, then so today we need to do our best to win new friends. Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham have been doing this for some time.

Derby and Derbyshire might be on catch up but our progress is rapid and, by focusing on Hefei and Anhui as our China market entry points, we might just be onto something this space.


Thursday 9th November - Mind-Boggling

A visit to Hefei provides an immediate insight to what has been happening across China.

Just over 10 years ago this city, on the Yangtze River, had a population of 1 million. Today it has grown to 8 million and will apparently soon hit 10 million - in other words, bigger than London.

And yet, oddly, Hefei is Derby's Chinese twin city.

It gets weirder.

The province in which it sits, Anhui, which has a population of 60 million, the size of the UK, is twinned with Derbyshire.

These twinning deals are the result of what the Chinese call the 'golden era' in relations with the UK; a match made in Beijing and London following President Xi's state visit a few years ago.

Today, while Donald Trump landed in Beijing, delegates from Derby & Derbyshire rocked up in Hefei, hoping to build on last year's first introductory steps by seeking to turn signed memorandums of understanding into action.

China is now the world's largest economy and quickly moving up the economic value chain. If you think China is all about making those dinky little cocktail umbrellas, then you better think again. Observing the hustle and bustle on the street I'm struck by a young, well-educated population, on the move.

Hefei is a good example of a city under rapid development - a result of China's 5-year central planning system. Basically, if it's in the plan it gets delivered.

Take High Speed Rail.

We all know the snail's pace of infrastructure development in the UK. HS2 has been in the pipeline for ages and still not one piece of track has been laid. The third runway at Heathrow is now in its 5th decade of discussion.

Hefei is now home to 5 High Speed rail lines -  the sleek bullet trains reach Shanghai and Beijing in 3 and 4 hours respectively. A further 3 lines are to be delivered by 2020. Across China, 500 new airports are to be completed by 2020.

Derby City Councillor Fareed Hussain, described it all as 'mind boggling' in his opening comments at a round table this morning.

And 'mind boggling' it certainly is.

New concert halls, sports stadia, shopping malls and a frantic construction boom, all explain why Hefei is hitting double digit economic growth.

It ain't all pretty but it certainly is an opportunity.

And that's essentially why we are out here - developing relationships that can increase trade, investment and tourism, plus foster sporting, educational and cultural links.

The benefit could be huge for the UK but also for our local areas.

Today our City, County and University teams have been spread across Hefei on three separate streams of meetings and functions.

But, more on what that means for Derby and Derbyshire tomorrow...



Wednesday 8th November - Über-massive

There is no other way to describe the China International Industry Fair (CIIF) but to say behemoth - bigger than massive...über-massive.

Held in Shanghai's giant NECC, the world's second largest building we are told, the show attracts an astonishing 160,000 visitors. The scale is XXL and walking between its mega-halls you feel like a minor character in Metropolis. 

This year, the UK is the CIIF 'Country of Honour' with a large dedicated pavilion showcasing trade and investment opportunities back home in Blighty.

More than that, today is Midlands Day, meaning attention is focused on our part of the world. The day includes the launch of a 3-year Midlands Engine China strategy by Communities Minister Sajid Javid and Midlands Engine chairman Sir John Peace.

A chance to shine.

The message to our Chinese hosts is simple - please think beyond London. We started the industrial revolution and still have a vital role to play. Think Midlands!

Derby and Derbyshire are well represented. Delegates from the City and County Councils, the University, tourism bodies and the private sector have come together in Shanghai to fly the flag, before moving on to the main business of cultivating our ongoing relationships in Hefei and Anhui.

The launch is packed and is followed by a question and answer session on which I am a panelist.

Derby gets great profile and multiple mentions, not least because of the engaging presence of Rolls-Royce China boss, Julian MacCormac, who has come down from his Beijing office to show his support. Derby is our world HQ and Derby is our heart, he says - music to my ears.

We have come a long way in a short time. A few years ago Derby wouldn’t have been on the radar, whereas now we are name-checked - as a place on the up, with a rock solid global-facing economy. A bonus is that a Rolls-Royce image fronts the Midlands Engine China Strategy document.

As proceedings come to a close we exit the exhibition, joining the madness that is the Shanghai rush hour, to catch one of their wonderful bullet trains speeding us east, at up to 300kmph, towards twin city Hefei.

More on that tomorrow...