It is the Year of the Rat. Chinese astrologers say it heralds wealth and prosperity.
Those born Rats are pioneers, meticulous and systematic, qualities China says its entrepreneurs have in spades. The EU may be concerned by China’s increasing dominance but Dusseldorf in Germany is not.
The city has been working for years on encouraging more Chinese businesses to move here, even though China effectively killed its steel industry, its companies are beating German firms to major contracts, and China is set to snatch Germany’s title as the world’s top goods exporter this year.
Dusseldorf Mayor Joachim Erwin : “As long as we have a wonderful increase in our exports it does not bother me. You do not get anything, not a gold medal, nothing, for being Number One. For us it is just important to have a five or ten per cent increase.”
More than 200 Chinese companies have so far taken up the Mayor’s invitation to move in to Dusseldorf. A professed Sinophile — even if he is not keen on the food and only speaks a few words of the language — Herr Erwin can clearly see the benefits for his city.
So too can Vodafone, headquartered in Dusseldorf and a close business partner of the two largest telecoms companies in China. Both Huawei and ZTE are now in Dusseldorf, one of them right across the road or –- due to their increasingly close collaboration — right across the corridor in the same building.
Hartmut Kremling, Chief Technical Officer, Vodafone: “Huawei is our supplier and our partner. We are buying infrastructures from Huawei. We are buying consumer products from Huawei. We have an research laboratory in Spain as well as here in Germany. It is a win-win situation for both of us.”
Huawei is the biggest telecoms equipment maker in China. It just beat other top European firms to a key contract in the Middle East. But Huawei executives, both Chinese and German, laugh off any possibility of bad feeling.
Christopher Moch, General Manager Germany, Vodafone Business Unit: “I think it is a competitive environment. Every company tries to give their best, to have the best offer, the best solution for the customer, and we at Huawei just try to be better than the others, and sometimes we succeed.”
Huawei’s New Year celebrations were testimony to its efforts at multicultural integration. Lilian Li is Vice-President and Chief Finance Officer of Huawei’s European operation: “We found that cross-culture is not a big problem. Language is different and language is supposed to give different cultures their background, but the philosophy, humour and good feeling is the same.
The Dusseldorf—China project is not without some problems. Chinese companies sometimes have difficulties getting visas for Chinese staff given Chancellor Angela Merkel’s emphasis on jobs for Germans.
Thomas Chai works for Novatech: “Sometimes people think “Why do you need those people from Asia? Find the people locally.” But we cannot find them. Some people we can find locally, but we need key people. The person must come from the original factory.”
Made in Germany has long been a mark of quality. Made in China, perhaps less so. But Chinese executives in Dusseldorf think that is changing.
“‘Made in Germany’ definitely means good quality, high quality, in work, everybody agrees with that,” said Lilian Li. “But I think, at the moment, people also know that Asia and China is a global manufacturing area. A lot of ‘Made in China’ is not just made in China, it is made in the world, made globally. It is made in very good quality.”
Dusseldorf’s open invitation to foreign companies is not new. Years ago, Japanese businesses were welcomed with open arms, and still remain. More than 5,000 Japanese nationals live in the city.
There is no equivalent “Chinatown” in Dusseldorf, but there is a China Centre. Its founder Robert Cao, manufactures moulded car parts in China, for German car giants Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes.
“Dusseldorf is a wonderful place,” said Cao. “Dusseldorf people are special people. They are very open. We created a Chinese lifestyle, and it is a big success. Germans are good at technology development and research, and looking ahead. Of course, we Chinese are not bad. But we are behind technology-wise. Behind Germany. But we have a close cooperation, and we take the best of each other’s strong points.”
Air Berlin is banking on Dusseldorf’s pulling power. It already boasts a Europe-wide network, and from this May it will start direct flights to Shanghai and Beijing.
Joachim Hunold is Air Berlin’s Chief Executive Officer: “Dusseldorf has the biggest catchment area, behind London, in Europe with 80 million people living in a radius of 100 kms, and we have built up, in the last year, fantastic feeder routes into Dusseldorf Europe-wide and domestic-wide, so it is the perfect start to China.”
Dusseldorf’s youngsters are also looking to the future. One secondary school in the town has started offering courses in Chinese, and they are proving popular.
While young Germans are learning Chinese, 13-year old Yed Tse is learning German. A piano prodigy from Shanghai, he was selected to study at Dusseldorf’s Robert Schumann College of Music. “Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, I can learn very well here. I want to be a very good pianist.”
The recent Chinese New Year saw numerous happy celebrations in Dusseldorf. If the city council has its way, there will be even more reason to celebrate when the Year of the Ox comes round next year.