China reaches out

Chinese associations continue to thrive on China’s Belt and Road initiative, investing in opportunities for knowledge exchange with the outside world.

Just as China’s open Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has spurred Chinese cities to aggressively court international association meetings, the Middle Kingdom’s own industry associations are making firm moves to build business exchange and knowledge-sharing platforms with their country partners and international peers.

To prepare Chinese associations going international, the China Association For NGO Cooperation (CANGO) – under the Ministry of Civil Affairs – and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Commercial Sub-council launched the China Congress of Associations and Chambers of Commerce in 2018.

Held on October 17 to 18, 2019, the congress welcomed associations, investment promotion and commercial bureaus and meetings management suppliers from China and beyond, national and city-level convention and exhibition bureaus, as well as CCPIT chapters.

Alicia Yao, the event’s organising committee chairman, said the event aimed to “guide associations’ management of research institutions, conference development and investment promotion, help trade associations to carry out brand building, establish a cooperation mechanism between the Belt and Road trade associations, and provide a platform for international and domestic cross-border exchanges”.

Emphasising the Chinese government’s full support of the local associations’ move to go beyond their borders, Yao pointed to the issuance of the Notice on Fully Hearing the Opinions of Chambers of Commerce and Industry Associations in the Process of Formulating Administrative Regulations and Regulations Administrative Standardization Documents by The General Office of the State Council in March 2019.

Vivian Zhang, director of event specialist MCI China, observed many Chinese domestic associations had begun to market themselves as international entities that were committed to being academically authoritative, raising the influence of the industry and having a strong voice.

Zhang said: “Chinese industry associations have resources and academic status. The challenge is how to make use of these resources to develop healthily.”
She observed that Chinese association heads were now younger and more exposed internationally, adding that association communication had also changed from one-way – external to internal – to two-way.

Citing an example, she said the China Infection Control Annual Conference of the China Association for Infectious and Preventive Medicine had Chinese experts and scholars deeply involved in the planning stage of the International Academic Annual Conference.
For long-established associations to grow, Zhang said new strategies and professional support were needed.

Faced with limited staff headcount, Chinese associations must re-examine their core focus, advised Zhang. Her suggestion is to outsource operations to a professional management team and for the association to concentrate on building its core content.

Mike Williams, senior partner and consultant at GainingEdge, an agency that advises the convention and meetings industry, also suggested that Chinese association executives attend training by Union of International Associations (UIA) and International Convention and Convention Association (ICCA) held in China on governance, financial management, membership growth, and case studies of association best practices.

While Chinese associations are eager to do more, the ongoing US-China trade war could impact their efforts, opined Kitty Wong, president, K&A International and past-president, World DMC Alliance.

She explained that associations needed “approval” from the central government to organise any event. With China tightening up surveillance, Wong opined the national associations cannot do much without approval and may not even consider bidding for international conferences to be held in China.

She added: “Without a local organising committee to back them up to obtain approval and/or sponsorship, there is no reason for international NGOs to bring a conference to China.”

Still, she encourages Chinese associations leaders to attend international congresses, conventions and seminars outside China “to make friends and exchange ideas with colleagues in their own fields globally”.

“Don’t be shy in connecting with the world,” she advised.

This article was first published in TTGassociations January 2020, a sister publication of TTGmice

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