How to achieve government relations with impact in China


China’s not the last frontier any more…  But nor is it easy. And it’s going to get more difficult…. Ahead of the 2015 China Government Affairs Forum, PublicAffairsAsia offers five top tips to deliver effective government relations in mainland China


In China today you don’t just pitch-up, launch your business and expect the good times to roll.   There may have been a time in China’s economic development where Western business had it easy.  But things are getting more sophisticated, the rules are getting tougher,  the competition more competitive – and the economy is slowing. Meanwhile labour is more expensive, the government wants hi-tech over low tech and the free market is playing a more decisive role. It is not so easy now…

1. Map and Align…     

China is still a country rich in opportunity. But success involves mapping what the country needs, and what the government is pushing for, and then seeking to deliver it. Building your business in tandem with social, economic and environmental policy creates the much heralded “win-win”. Be aware that despite moves towards decentralisation, government is as powerful as ever: this means a business operating plan which compliments public policy objectives is likely to be far more effective than one which doesn’t.

2. Don’t Break the Law…

This might sound obvious but please don’t break the law and please don’t allow your staff to break the law. Power is still centralised in the hands of the few in China so despite the crackdown there is still room for corruption. Don’t be tempted:  as a foreign operator you will be held to a higher standard and the punishments are severe. Western MNCs must be seen to abide by the letter and the spirit of the law: be that on labour issues, taxation, graft or in terms of competition and monopoly laws. In many instances Western governments and corporations have been pushing for these laws: now they have to abide by them.

3. Capitalise Where You Can…

The Chinese government might previously have thought it was responsible for solving every problem but this is changing. It now sees the role of the market as a fundamental catalyst for change and is shifting its role towards being the facilitator rather than the deliverer. As free trade areas open up in areas such as Shanghai look closely where the market opportunities exists and where your firm can provide solutions to the more intractable problems such as water and air pollution, food safety and financial stability. Get in line as China develops horizontal business-government relationships which are geared towards private-sector led economic and social development.  Build relationships with government which accentuate and encourage this shift in role.

4. Localise, Localise…

Central government knows its limitations. And while it is turning to market-led solutions, the party still knows best and so is also turning to its lower ranks to drive change. The shift towards local decision-making is resulting in a more diffuse matrix, with companies being required to engage at many levels. With tight resources this means you have to do more to develop local government relations, pitching your efforts in at the administrative levels depending on the issue at hand. Also ensure that you remain abreast of quick moving changes to government structure and current reforms. Old systems might not suit the new landscape – so adjust accordingly.

5. Think From the Top Down…

Given the scale of the government relations function in China it is vital that all operational managers, from the CEO down, understand the part they have to play. CEO’s – and increasingly this should be the global CEO – must consider government relations as a fundamental aspect of their role. Board members must do also: especially if their business is highly regulated or policy dependent. This means that the GR function is their to support management, to inform debate, and to drive strategy – with the required level of manager, from the CEO down to factory manager, being equipped to play a government relations role on a day to day basis.


The 2015 China Government Affairs Forum takes place in Beijing on Thursday, May 21 and is supported by Weber Shandwick and AmCham China. Click here for full details on the agenda and speakers at “Achieving the China Dream: The Reforms | The Risks | The Rewards” – book now at the early-bird rate.