A group of us from Cambridge visited the resort of Sanya in China’s Hainan province, to take part in the annual Sanya Forum and launch our China Advisory Council
The Sanya Forum can be loosely thought of as a sort of Chinese Davos, though confusingly China has its own official summer Davos meeting. It’s a conference that brings together senior government and private sector people, mainly Chinese but with a sprinkling from the rest of the world. This year’s theme was “new economy, new balance” which is a gently ironic nod to the still acute imbalances in the Chinese economy which need to be fixed if the country is to achieve sustainable high growth in future. (Recent evidence suggests that the rebalancing is going very slowly).
Hainan is an island province of the south coast of China, close to Vietnam, and about two thirds the size of Taiwan, which has been developed as a tourist destination. It remains nicely warm even in winter and is an hour’s flight from Hong Kong. We stayed in a very fancy hotel, in earshot of the beach (where the crashing waves were spectacular but rather inhibited any desire to swim). The skies were clear and for the first time in all my trips to China, I was able to see the stars (and the Geminid meteor shower on Sunday night).
I was also charmed and a little disoriented by a carol concert performed by an all girl choir dressed as Santa Claus. Christmas in a warm place is always a little strange for us northern Europeans but China seems to have taken to this tradition, rooted in cold northern forest winters (later hi-jacked by Christianity), with great enthusiasm.
On a boat trip we were given a glimpse of the contrast between the new, tall buildings under construction and the people still living in very low income apartments.
As is usually the case at conferences, the main activity is networking. No matter how many business cards I take I always seem to give them all away. On this occasion I met a range of interesting people, including: the CEO of a major insurance company; a partner in China’s leading global macro hedge fund; a former TV anchorwoman who now runs her own media company; the head of an urbanisation think tank; and the President of the China Arts Foundation.
Cambridge Judge people were involved in two panels. One was on SMEs, which was chaired by Peter Hiscocks, a faculty colleague who teaches entrepreneurship and is CEO of our executive education business. It included a presentation by Prof Christoph Loch on his research and a new SME study.
The second panel was on the reform of China’s state owned enterprises, under the code name “mixed ownership”, chaired by me and including Prof Jon Stern, who is an expert on the UK’s privatisation of utilities and a member of the Cambridge University Energy Policy Research Group, which is based in Judge. The keynote speech was given by Professor Sir James Mirrlees, who used to be professor of economics at Cambridge and before that at Oxford (where I was one of his less distinguished students). Sir James won the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, so 2014 was a year in which I met two economics Nobel laureates (see here for the other one).
It was a pleasure to catch up with Sir James (who kindly pretended to remember me) on a boat in the South China Sea.
Launching the China Advisory Council
The fifteen member Council, which is entirely the result of a great deal of hard work by my friend and colleague Daniel He, our Asian Business Development Director for executive education, was launched at the end of the conference, with five TV stations and various business and financial journalists in attendance. The launch was very professionally led by our Director of External Affairs Nathalie Walker. Here is a Chinese news report on the launch.
The Forum was beautifully and seamlessly organised and the Cambridge team were made to feel very welcome. Much of this is owing to the very hard work, professionalism and all round wonderfulness of Catherine Zhou of Caijing, for which we all thank her.