Let’s look East and find a friend

On Friday this week, (February 16, 2018) the Chinese will celebrate their New Year. This is a little known event on our shores, as are most things about China and its culture. China threatens the Unites States for the title of world’s biggest economy and we posit that it is in our best interests to learn more about this giant of the Orient, for its going to be a valuable trade partner.

Over the last 30 years, China’s GDP has grown at an annual average rate of 9% to 10%, quickly making it the second largest economy in the world. McKinsey and Company estimate that by 2022, 75% of urban Chinese will earn between US$9,000 (P90,000) to US$34,000 (P340, 000) a year. Only 4% of urban Chinese households were within this range in 2000. Twelve years later, in 2012, it had jumped to 68%.

Many economists see China surpassing the United States to become the largest economy in the world. Some among them even estimate it will happen in the next few years. Whether it happens this year or in the next decade matters little, the point is that it will happens and that China offers a lot of opportunities for countries like ours with small domestic markets. With that size of the middle class and with that kind of money, it is not a matter of if, but of by how much consumption will increase. The recent slowing of growth in the Chinese economy and normalisation from the growth rates of the past 10 years should not fool us; China still has a lot to offer.

We need a deliberate strategy to guide us in how to exploit the gravy train that is China:  1). How do we woo credible Chinese companies to invest here? Could they be the answer, in terms of money and expertise, in the development of our various Special Economic Zones? 2). What can we sell the Chinese? Would their restrictions be as tough as the European Union’s in beef exportation? If we do get the diamond polishing and jewellery making industry up and running, and with proper marketing, can the Chinese ‘nouveau riche’ gobble up our diamond jewellery? 3). Are we missing out on the Chinese tourism treasure trove?

According to the China Tourism Research Institute, 120 million Chinese tourists visited abroad in 2015, spending $104.5 billion in the process. This marks a 12% increase in the number of outbound tourists and a 16.7% increase on the money spent when compared with 2014. The institute says the main driving forces for the increases included personal income rise, favourable policies, and appreciation of RMB, the Chinese currency. It is not clear if Botswana Tourism is doing anything to tap into that windfall.

Now, in order to realise whatever ideals will be espoused in the strategy we propose, the country should be Chinese-friendly. And what better way there is than to have a good number of us speak Mandarin and appreciate Chinese culture, cuisine, art and music! We need to appreciate that there is more to the Chinese than Kung Fu movies. Thankfully, the University of Botswana, in partnership with the Confucius Institute, has started the ball rolling with short-term Mandarin Language courses and a bachelor’s degree programme in Chinese Studies.

As part of the strategy we propose, we should graduate a sizeable number of students from these courses, fully funded through the Department of Tertiary Education Financing, so that interpreters are readily available for the ease of doing business with Chinese investors. Primary and secondary school level teachers should also be produced so that Mandarin is taught in public schools as a mainstream subject.