China: a tale of two cities (Beijing)

Flying from Singapore to Beijing, I remembered something I had been told before I left London: whatever your expectations of China, they will be exceeded. They certainly were.

On 29 May, ICAEW hosted a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Economic Forum in Beijing. An impressive and distinguished line-up of speakers included the First Secretary & Deputy Director for Financial & Professional Services from The British Embassy; Professor Qin Rongsheng from the Beijing National Accounting Institute; Professor Wang Yiwei from the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China and Kiran Patel, Senior Director at the China-Britain Business Council.

BRI is an ambitious project, the 21st Century equivalent of the Silk Road, reaching out from China and linking Asia, Africa and Europe (and indeed beyond). The “belt” – or Silk Road Economic Belt - element is the land routes served by road and rail. The “road” – or 21st Century Maritime Silk Road - element is the sea routes. In his book, “The Belt and Road Initiative: What will China offer the world in its rise?”, Professor Wang Yiwei cites five key elements of BRI: policy communication, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, monetary circulation and understanding between peoples. He also adds a sixth, the Internet Silk Road. He expanded on these ideas at our Economic Forum.

In my keynote speech at the Forum I said that while many people focused on delivery of the physical elements of BRI - rail networks, roads and ports – I believed that the often less visible contribution of the accountancy and finance profession was equally important. Whether in terms of financing projects, providing the reliable financial information upon which such projects depend (especially in a cross-border context), or dealing with cross-border tax effects, we have a vital role to play.

To play that vital role requires – in Professor Wang Yiwei’s words – understanding between peoples. It is why our conversations with colleagues in other professional bodies and government departments around the world are so important: understanding and trust between businesses and professional bodies is built upon understanding and trust between individuals. At the dinner following the Economic Forum, conversations took place that I believe built valuable understanding and trust at an individual level. The next day we met with officials from the Ministry of Finance and held a conversation that soon developed a personal aspect (to the extent that we were able to arrange a follow-up meeting in July, when they will be visiting London).

After equally productive meetings with colleagues in other professional bodies, we left Beijng for Shanghai. Travelling at over 300 kph on the bullet train gave a kaleidoscopic impression of the country we were passing through. Vast areas of open countryside, towns and cities, huge buildings rising from countless construction sites. As we sped through the landscape I reflected on Professor Wang Yiwei’s words - “In short, the BRI….marks China’s fundamental transformation from being a participant in, to a shaper of, globalisation”.

Many of our members are already – or will soon be – engaged on BRI projects, delivering on our own vision of a world of strong economies.

What happened in Shanghai will be the subject of Part Two of this blog, to be uploaded tomorrow.

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