Building a Strong Platform

China Daily Editor’s note

As a German federally-owned enterprise, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is a global service provider in international cooperation and professional training for sustainable development. GIZ operates in 130 countries with 17,000 staff members worldwide and provides policy advice, knowledge transfer, capacity building and organisational development support in areas where German know-how is world-leading.

GIZ has more than three decades of experience in cooperation with China, and 28 years with Northeast China. What changes happened in Shenyang over the past decades? What are the main achievements of the cooperation between Germany and Shenyang? Helmut Schönleber, Programme Director of GIZ, shares his views with China Daily.

Q: What role does GIZ play in promoting the cooperation between Germany and Shenyang? What are the main achievements?

Commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Co-operation and Development, GIZ launched projects in China since 1982. We began our first project in Northeast China in 1986, a Training Centre for Welding in Harbin. Just a few years later, we started to support the Liaoning Vocational and Technical Education Research Centre in Shenyang, and implemented our regional projects from our Shenyang Office ever since.

In the Liaoning Employment Promotion and Training Programme, we worked together with our Chinese partners on improving the labour market structure, supported highly skilled talent training, provided training for business start-ups, and initiated a Public-Private Cooperation Project between BMW-Brilliance and vocational schools in Shenyang. In total, we held more than 60 symposiums and trainings with over 2,500 participants.

In 2011, we started to cooperate with Development and Reform Commissions in a programme to support the new State Council strategy on integration and coordination of economic development in the Northeast. The programme achieved a good improvement in cooperation between provincial stakeholders, and contributed to an impulse on German business contacts with Northeast China.

In our projects, we arranged many mutual visits of German and Shenyang officials, experts, and entrepreneurs to build new partnerships. Germany established a Consulate General in Shenyang, and German Lufthansa Airlines connected Frankfurt and Shenyang with a non-stop flight, starting in 2012.

Q: Why are German enterprises interested in investing in Shenyang?

Germany and Northeast China are similar in climate and in the character and business habits of our people, such as seeking excellence in profession. More and more Germans know about the economic development of the Shenyang Metropolitan Area as a hub to reach all of Northeast Asia. When we did research for our “China Liaoning Business Guide”, we even found out that Liaoning was the fastest growing sub-national region in the world, far ahead of Ile-de-France, Greater London, California, Tokyo-to or Bavaria. Both the matching character of people and the amazing growth opportunities are important for attracting German enterprises.

The cooperation between Germany and Shenyang initially focused on big enterprises such as BMW and Brilliance, but the centre of attention is now shifting to small and medium enterprises. They are concerned with demand and supply, the location of customers and competitors, and the political environment when selecting their location for investment.

Q: What factors will German investors consider if they want to invest in Shenyang?

Aside from industry-specific key factors, German companies consider investing here due to the national Shenyang Metro development plan and the preferential policies expected to be applied. Compared to other locations, the Shenyang workforce has a higher level of professional training, but there is still much room for improvement. The city and the provincial government seem to pay attention to provide quality human resources for foreign enterprises.

Q: What’s your suggestion for companies in Shenyang on attracting German partners?

Firstly, German enterprises like to cooperate with foreign partners in the same field of operations. So, Shenyang enterprises should get to know German enterprises in their specific market niche.

Secondly, German companies like partners who apply a similar work attitude as they do. They like precision, specialization, efficiency, reliability, honesty, and openness. Shenyang enterprises with those characteristics will more easily succeed in finding German partners.

It is one of the objectives in our Northeast Programme to promote economic cooperation between enterprises of our two countries. Within our project, over 200 north-eastern enterprises will build cooperation with Germany. We will provide entrepreneurs of Shenyang the opportunity to meet German entrepreneurs. It will be up to them to turn these opportunities into successful cooperation.

Q: In your opinion, what needs to be improved in Shenyang?

Foreign enterprises need foreign people. I suggest Shenyang to pay more attention to providing proper services for these people, such as more international schools for their children, international food and entertainment, and convenient public transportation. Foreigners and Chinese alike also love clean air, so try to improve air quality.

Foreign enterprises also need a strong vocational training system trimmed to their specific needs. German enterprises consider their long-term development more than others, so they require the availability of talents they need in 10 or 20 years.

Shenyang has been looking at the experience of the German Ruhr Area, and adopted some of the lessons learnt. I think there is still much more to be exchanged. Why not intensify the twinning between Shenyang and Düsseldorf and between Liaoning and Baden-Württemberg? We at GIZ will be happy to assist in all these endeavours.

The Shenyoungsters

I like to call the people of Shenyang “Shenyoungsters”. First, they are young compared with the people of European cities, statistically ten years younger than the average age of Germany. You will notice this when you go shopping at one of the malls or pedestrian zones of Shenyang: smiling at you will be mostly tall and pretty girls in their twenties (or at least looking as such) and smart trim young men. Second, their city has been going through an amazing rejuvenation since I first visited in 1985.

In 1985, I was a postgraduate scholarship student at Renmin University of China in Beijing, researching management reforms in the shipbuilding industry of China. The Dean of Economic History, Professor Sun Jian, guided me during an excursion to major shipyards, and our last stop was Dalian Shipyard in Liaoning province, the yard that built the largest ships of China.

At a time when men and women alike were wearing a blue or green Mao suit, when streets were jammed not with cars but with bicycles, when people addressed each other “comrade”, Dalian was a buzzing and relatively westernized city with business and modernization in the air. We interviewed Director Wang Youwei who had massively expanded the Shipyard and actually spoke some German. Afterwards, we took a train from Dalian back to Beijing, with a one-night stopover in Shenyang.

I expected Shenyang to be even more modern and globalized than Dalian, because Dalian was just a so-called “open” port city in Liaoning, while Shenyang was the provincial capital and seat of the government. But on my first visit, Shenyang disappointed me very much. My first impression of Shenyang was that of a huge village in the middle of early industrialization. Even the faces of people seemed dusty. At the time, I saw no reason to ever come back.

And I didn’t, for eleven years. In 1996, I was appointed coordinator of a Sino-German project to support chambers of industry and commerce. We considered the Liaoning chamber to be one of our key partners, main reason for my second visit to Shenyang. Now this Shenyang was quite different from the one of a decade before! There were international hotels, pubs with German beer, many entrepreneurs full of vigour and eager to cooperate with Europe. I met some wonderful people, such as Li Yingzhang of the provincial chamber, descendant of a “capitalist family” whose father had donated the family wealth to the Party in the early 1950s, or Yang Guanxing with a similar background, Chairman of the chamber today. People in general were friendly, especially to Germans, and not as intrusive as elsewhere. Many of my best friends in Shenyang today are friends I met at that time.

In the later 1990s and 2000s, I visited Shenyang many times and witnessed her progress. I moved to live there in 2008, to head the GIZ Shenyang Office and the GIZ LEPT Programme. A year later, Shenyang expanded the airport freeway to eight lanes and became host of “Germany and China – Together in Motion” with some of the high-level events arranged by GIZ. Shenyang built her first subway line, which was opened on the same day Governor Chen Zhenggao honoured me and some other foreign experts with the Liaoning Friendship Award. Shenyang opened a new, large international airport and hosted the National Athletic Games. I had to move back to Beijing, but still consider Shenyang my second home after Germany. My Shenyoungster friends, young or old, are the ones I can trust, rely upon, and both have fun and do serious business with.

Helmut Schönleber