China-Belgium Economic Forum in Anbang

Program of the Forum

On the occasion of the official visit to the People’s Republic of China by Prime Minister Charles Michel and to celebrate the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium, Michel Malherbe, Ambassador of Belgium and Wu Xiaohui, Chairman of Anbang Insurance Group jointly organized the China-Belgium Economic Forum on Monday 31 October at the Anbang Group Head Office in Beijing.
The Anbang buildings are state of the art and impressive. It was a great setting for a Forum that we can say was very successful.
There was a VIP line-up of speakers:

  • Wu Xiaohui, Chairman of Anbang Insurance Group
  • Zhong Shan, Vice Minister of Commerce and International Trade
  • Lawrence Summers, Former US Secretary of Treasury, Former President of Harvard University and Economist
  • H.E. Charles Michel, PM
  • Michela Ritondo, Fiscal Department for Foreign Investments, Federal Public Service Finance (Belgium)
  • Mattias Debroyer, Consulate General of Belgium in Shanghai

The speeches were followed by a panel discussion, with among others representatives of Huawei and Anbang.
To conclude there was a lively Q&A with PM Michel.
Pictured are, among others, our ambassador Michel Malherbe, Paul Lambert (Consul General Shanghai), Eddy De Cuyper (Counsellor, Customs Attaché at the embassy), and others.

Content of the Forum

We saw some pretty cool videos about Belgium, I checked and all are available on this Belgian website, an excellent overview of our country with well-done short videos:
http://focusonbelgium.be/en
See for example the video of Gent (Ghent), my hometown:
(you need VPN for the direct link, Https://vimeo.com/151404508)

The presentations by the Belgian side were very informative, giving a clear introduction to our country as well as indicating all the advantages of investing and operating there, such as also tax incentives.

As mentioned by China Daily, see:
http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2016-11/01/content_27235357.htm

Chinese insurer Anbang Insurance Group Co Ltd unveiled a three-year loan program that will offer a total of 10 billion euros ($10.97 billion) to help Chinese startups and smaller companies to do business in Europe. The plan was announced by Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui at the China-Belgium Economic Forum in Beijing. The loan will be extended through Anbang’s banking subsidiary Bank Nagelmackers in Belgium.
The loan program is part of Anbang’s response to a Chinese government call for greater support for local small business, which have faced growing difficulties in gaining access to capital amid the economic slowdown.

Interview VRT with Gilbert and the media

The previous day I was interviewed by VRT (Stefan Blommaert), near the Belgian Embassy along the Liangma River. See the pics of the interview in the previous post.
Pictured are several screenshots of the VRT TV News, the last group of pictures.
Overall the visit of our Belgian PM received wide media coverage in the Chinese media.

Belgian PM Charles Michel in the Embassy

Garden Party for our PM Charles Michel in the Embassy

On the occasion of the official visit of H.E. Mr. Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium, to celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium, H.E. Mr. Michel Malherbe, Ambassador of Belgium, invited the community to a Garden Party at his Residence on Sunday 30 October 2016 in the afternoon.
Before the Garden Party I was interviewed by Stefan Blommaert (Belgian VRT) along Liangma River, close to the embassy.
There was a large crowd to welcome the PM, some 500+ braving the chilly weather. Food by TRB.

Also attended: the ambassadors of the EU Delegation, Luxembourg, Russia and others. Also, the President of the EU Chamber, Joerg Wuttke.
Our PM cordially mingled with the guests to chat.
I also met several of the staff of Anbang Brussels who were happy to finally meet the father of a certain Valerie…
See pictured also Renaat and Susan Morel, Stella Chang (soprano), Sus van Elzen (Belgian writer and journalist) and other friends.

The new Foreign NGO Law at AustCham

Foreign NGO Law explained

AustCham organized a joint chamber event on China’s New Foreign NGO Law – “Everything that Corporate Foundations, CSR Departments and NGOs Need to Know”. It was co-hosted by AustCham Beijing, the British Chamber and the French Chamber.
Speakers were Wang Liwei, CEO China Development Foundation; Clare Pearson, International Development Director, Asia, DLA Piper (and Chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China); Josh Freedman, Social Policy Research Manager, China Policy.
It was followed by Q&A.
I took place in the AustCham Beijing offices (U-Town Office Building).

The impact of the new law

That event was one of the first to point at the myriad of problems and questions raised by the new law that will take effect on 1 January 2017.
Being deeply involved in the Rotary operations in China I have been following very closely the whole story of that law as well as for the new China Charity Law (took effect on 1 September 2016). There is too much to be said to report here. My point is that many NGOs still underestimate the impact it will have on their operations, forcing many to close.
Contrary to what many think, we are not here worried about NGOs that operate in sensitive areas such as politics, religion, human rights, democracy and so on, being in a covert way or none.
The concern is for NGOs that do a lot of charity, are involved in improving the lives of many Chinese and alike. Many of those will have to close down operations as it looks like.

The outlook

I am still pretty concerned on what will happen. It is at any rate one more sign of China closing its doors, never mind the naïve who don’t see it or simply don’t understand what is at stake. China very much follows Russia for this matter.
How will Rotary survive this in China? It might be classified as a “Social Organization”, an entity to be under the supervision of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and being managed with its own law. The Foreign NGO Law appoints the Public Security organs as the supervisory party. Good luck with that.

See also this telling commentary from the SCMP:
22 August 2016 – “China tightens grip over social groups through greater Communist Party presence”
http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2007359/china-tightens-grip-over-social-groups-through-greater

Successful lobbying in China

Back to Yenching

On 24 October I had an evening lecture at The Yenching Academy, Peking University (“Beida”). The theme was lobbying in China. Duration: well over two hours including the Q&A.
This was the second one, see earlier post with the details of the Academy:
“Biking and Chinese cultural conflict”
http://blog.strategy4china.com/2016/09/biking-and-chinese-cultural-conflict/
In the first lecture all students were Chinese; this time all were basically foreigners

Can lobbying in China be successful?

Well, the first questions should be: is it legal? What do we understand with lobbying?
After clarifying that and giving a quick overview on the tremendous changes China saw over the past 35 years, I moved to the core of the lecture. I give two real lobbying examples: the “Athletes Alley”, the huge sculpture of the artist Olivier Strebelle; the re-launching of metro projects in China through the contract for Shanghai Metro Line 3.
Both are two projects I handled personally. Both are of the type what I call “Mission Impossible”.
A lively debate followed where I explained also how one can overcome a new cultural obstacle, how to face challenging environments and the need to think out of the box.
Another issue I discussed is the other side of the medal: the difficulties working with the head office in Europe and the often murky situations one faces there.

Belgian Consular Info Session

Consular Info Session: great initiative

On 23 September the Belgian Embassy in Beijing held an information session in the Ambassador’s residence.
In every country one can face problems with visas, insurance, security and other. China is not an exception with its own issues.
The Consular Info Session was well attended by the Belgian community and many asked questions.
The Consul gave a clear and informative presentation of the main issues that can affect us all. The ambassador also intervened and also introduced the delegates from the “Belgians in Beijing” (“BiB”).
It is the first time (in 35 years!) I had the chance to join a similar meeting.

TIN and credit cards

I raised the issue of TIN: “Tax Identification Number”. Due to new laws in OECD, banks are becoming pretty strict on the tax situation of its clients. ING bank (Belgium) recently upset many of the Beijing clients as they were requesting our TIN, threatening to lodge complaints if we did not comply.
As a matter of fact, ING handled without understanding the situation of foreigners in China. While the Chinese government claims “everybody in China has a TIN”, in reality it does not apply to foreigners.

Chinese regulations mention:

The structure of TIN varies depending on the types of taxpayer. For entities, it consists of 15 characters (old TIN regime) or 18 characters (new TIN regime). For individuals, it consists of 18 characters. Taxpayer who registered with tax authority was issued a certificate of tax registration that contains its TIN. Under the new TIN regime, taxpayer who registers with industry & commerce authority will be issued a business licence that contains its “Credibility Code”, which is also its TIN. The TIN number of individual is shown on its identification card.

As we investigated, as for now the Beijing Tax Bureau uses simply the passport number as a TIN (not being in line with normal Chinese TIN for Chinese citizens).
The Beijing Tax authorities confirmed this in an official e-mail. One explanation is that foreigners do not have some kind of ID card in China. Long time ago we did have some kind of “ID booklet” that was later discontinued.
There are plans to reform the tax system and the work permits for foreigners, and to issue ID cards to foreign residents. At a later stage the foreigners could then also be issued a TIN according to Chinese tax standards.
As for me: we solved our problem as we got a brand-new TIN under our company.
Also to note: the Chinese Green Card number is can NOT be used for TIN and other purposes, it does not have 18 characters as the Chinese ID …

Belgian banks are now becoming difficult when sending out our credit cards. Some agencies only allow the cards to be picked up in person. The cards needs to be activated by SMS, usually too late when we get them in hand. The ATMs in Beijing do not have an “activation” service but the simple way is to withdraw a small amount, thus activating the card.