Political Science Professor
Loïc Tassé lived in China for four years.
Photo courtesy of Brumant -Chaire Raoul-Dandurand
Unless Canadian universities get serious about training specialists on
China, Canada risks being caught off-guard by Chinas meteoric rise
to economic world power, says Loïc Tassé, a political science
professor at Concordia.
Most Westerners are unaware that China is now the fifth-largest economy
in the world, and is expected to outstrip current number two, Japan, in
about eight to 10 years, warned Tassé, a specialist on China who
has spent four years in that country.
Whats more, he said, some people predict that within the next
20 years, China is going to be more powerful than the United States, economically
However, Western countries, including Canada, seem content to leave the
economic initiative exclusively to the Chinese.
What is going to happen is that the Chinese are simply going to
control the trade between Canada and China, he said. It seems
to me a bit strange to leave the opportunities of commerce only to the
The problem is that at our universities in Canada, specifically
here in Montreal, we dont have many specialists of China who can
understand and teach Chinese politics, economy and sociology.
Therefore, he says, its urgent that Canada give people as firm an
understanding of China as many Chinese have of Western culture. Chinese
students and businessmen know Western countries extremely well.
We need to train more specialists for the government, for universities,
and for the private sector, he said. The demand is really
Spectacular economic boom
Tassé explained the Chinese economic miracle has come about as
a result of Deng Xiaopings measures to end communist-style economic
planning in the late 1970s. Since then, China has gradually embraced capitalism,
especially in its coastal areas and boomed. The Chinese economy
has been growing for 20 years now, and it looks like it will keep growing
for the next 20 years.
Some of the factors in Chinas spectacular economic growth include
its tremendous manpower, its attraction of foreign capital, partly through
the enormous worldwide Chinese diaspora, and the development of its manufacturing
sector on the basis of its pre-existing, well-developed military industry.
Moreover, China can compete with Japan and the United States because its
wages are much lower. Indeed, labour-intensive industries in China tend
to move inland, in pursuit of cheaper labour. This economic frontier can
benefit China for decades to come, Tassé said.
Tassé dismissed as a misunderstanding the image of
China as a Third World country. While many areas of China are very backward,
others are extremely rich and look much like developed countries, with
modern cities such as Shanghai.
The very rich part of China is made up of something like 300 million
people, Tassé said. Thats about the population
of the United States. Imagine the economic power of these people.
However, for a Western entrepreneur to get into China, it is very important
to understand the Chinese culture and mentality.
In China, every economic matter is first of all a political matter.
So if you want to understand the Chinese economy, you have first of all
to understand the political context.
And there are cultural differences. For instance, your Chinese business
partner will want to get to know you, Tassé said. He will
want to know a lot about your personal life, if youre married, if
you have children.
The reason is that its vital to build a relationship of trust in
China, as the legal framework is much weaker than in Western countries.
They want to be able to rely on a person, so it can take a long
time to negotiate in China.
Not enough people are available in Canada to bridge the cultural gap
let alone enough people who can speak Mandarin, Tassé said. The
most urgent task seems to be to understand China.