Lichia Yiu; “Role of Business Diplomacy Where Economic Diplomacy Stops –A Critical Reflection of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa”

Historically, China had prior experience in interacting with Africa.  In the first half of 15th Century, Admiral Zhen reached Madagascar already with his fleet of “treasure boats”.  Traders from the neighboring countries and dominions joint the fleet in order to benefit from the trading opportunities. This was the first official trade mission by the Chinese Ming Emperor.  Such missions continued for more than 15 years and came to a halt. The Belt and Road Initiative is a systematic effort of the Chinese government to foster a stronger economic and political link with its neighbours in the Southeast Asia and beyond reaching the shore of Africa once again.  In the geopolitical context of the post cold war period and the accelerated economic and technological catching up by China, such a concerted effort like BRI is causing concerns and anxieties in many quarters. Wherever there is a Chinese international trade policy, Chinese companies follow.  Interactions with the host countries, either the community or the labour force or suppliers, is achieving mixed results.

In addition to criticizing China’s policy as being exploitative, there have also been  kidnapping of Chinese workers and security problems causing loss of lives of Chinese workers. This presentation narrates the experience of Chinese companies going abroad by using the typology of Bartlett and Ghoshal and suggests that business diplomacy capability is critical for the Chinese corporation in managing its host countries business and non-business relationship.  Through the successful economic diplomacy of the Chinese government, Chinese companies enjoy privileged access to local markets in Africa.  However, to sustain their business engagements in Africa continent, Chinese companies will have to be more embed in the local community as good corporate citizens and contribute to the local development and prosperity.  Business diplomacy could complement the government’s economic and commercial diplomacy and make BRI a mutually beneficial success.

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