BRI Opportunities for Overseas Chinese Businesses

China Report ASEAN
2023-09-21 16:08 2083

An interview with Dr. Derek Goh Bak Heng, President of Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan

BEIJING, Sept. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- A news report from China Report ASEAN:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Countries along the route have been responding enthusiastically to the BRI since it was proposed by China, and many overseas Chinese people have acted as bridges for cooperation.

The Teochew people or Chaoshan people, native to the historical Chaoshan region in south China's Guangdong Province, represent around 20 percent of the entire Chinese population in Singapore. Established in Singapore in 1929, Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (TPIHK, meaning Chaoshan eight districts association) has a membership of more than 6,000 Singaporeans who have traced their origins to the eight Chaoshan districts including Chao'an, Jieyang, Chenghai, Chaoyang, Puning, Huilai, Raoping, and Nan'ao. TPIHK is committed to promoting Teochew culture through charitable, economic, and educational activities and has played an important role in expanding friendly exchanges between China and Singapore.

Dato' Seri Dr. Derek Goh Bak Heng , whose ancestral home is in Chao'an, China, is the TPIHK President and is also the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore-based Serial System Ltd. Founded by Dr. Goh in 1988, Serial System is a leading electronic components distributor with operations spanning across Asia including China's Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Dr. Goh has received numerous accolades in recognition of his achievements and contributions including the Singapore Youth Award, UN Asia Pacific Most Prominent Entrepreneur, and Asia Top Outstanding Business Leader Award. In 2015, he was conferred the Chinese Who's Who and the Distinguished Chinese Award.

How have the Teochew people in Singapore preserved and promoted their culture? What are the differences between generations on understanding Teochew culture? What role has the BRI played in the business operations of overseas Teochews? As the BRI celebrates its 10th anniversary, China Report ASEAN sat down with Dr. Goh, seeking answers to these questions.

As a Teochew entrepreneur, how do you observe your cultural traditions in everyday life? How do you understand Teochew culture?

Dr. Goh: I belong to the third generation of Chinese immigrants to Singapore, so my son is the fourth generation, but we have preserved our customs and traditions. For example, we carry a bag of mandarin oranges and visit our relatives and friends to offer Chinese New Year greetings. Those who are married give hongbaos(red envelops) to elders and children. This is how we observe long-standing traditions of the Chinese.

I believe that emphasis on education, respect for the elders and working hard for prosperity are the core of the Teochew culture. That's why many Teochew businessmen in Singapore are active in charitable activities, e.g. presenting scholarships and building hospitals.

Teochew culture is an important part of Lingnan culture. Traditional Chinese culture has been well preserved in the Chaoshan region, thanks to very few historical wars in the area. The Teochew Building, built by Teochews in Singapore, has distinctive Teochew architectural style and it houses cultural exhibits. Various cultural activities are often organized by TPIHK to promote traditional Chinese culture, raise awareness of Teochew culture, and provide a platform for cultural exchange and business cooperation between the Teochew and other Chinese communities in Singapore.

What role has TPIHK played in fostering exchanges between Chinese and Singaporean business communities?

Dr. Goh: Since its establishment 94 years ago, TPIHK has maintained constant contact with the Chinese mainland. We collaborated with other Teochew associations in Malaysia, Thailand, and China's Hong Kong and mainland and built exchange channels for the Teochews at home and abroad. Such efforts empower Teochew entrepreneurs to support each other in business growth and facilitate cooperation on larger development projects.

How do you think the older generation and younger generation of Teochew Singaporeans understand their culture differently?

Dr. Goh: The older generation of Teochews emphasize traditional values such as filial piety and integrity, while the younger generation are more open-minded and value diversity, individuality, and innovation. Young Teochews are also more eco- and health-conscious. Different groups of people from different times have demonstrated Teochew culture and spirit in diverse ways, but the precious, core values and traditions have been faithfully preserved and promoted. The TPIHK Youth Committee was established in September 2010 to forge stronger ties between young Teochew Singaporeans and recruit young talent from locals and new immigrants. Our ultimate goal is to carry forward the culture and spirit of Teochew people.

The founding of Serial System coincided with the 10th anniversary of the introduction of China's reform and opening-up policies. Have these policies made a difference to your business development?

Dr. Goh: China, then with a population of nearly 1 billion, was a huge market full of business opportunities when the reform and opening-up policies were first implemented in the late 1970s. That's why I started a research and development (R&D) company in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu in 1993, five years after Serial System was founded. To minimize competition and gain commercial advantages, the R&D company adopted an operation strategy featuring gradual expansion from cities at second and third tiers to first-tier cities in China.

Enormous changes have taken place in China over the past four decades of its reform and opening-up. When first entering the Chinese market, my business was mainly focused on selling semiconductor products from the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan region to the Chinese mainland. The situation has now changed. As the Chinese mainland started producing home-grown chips, my company became engaged in trading Chinese-produced semiconductors with the rest of the world. I have full confidence in the future of China's economic development. China will always remain an ideal destination for foreign investment.

What do you think of the implementation of the BRI in the past decade? Which industries do you think enjoy better prospects in terms of cooperation under the BRI framework?

Dr. Goh: Inclusiveness is the dominant feature of the BRI. The Initiative is open to all countries and offers businesses plenty of opportunities if their products are good quality at a fair price. Over the last 10 years, the BRI has attracted widespread participation and delivered real benefits. The constantly improving business environment in China encouraged new foreign investment, while many Chinese enterprises invested in countries along the route. Such stronger business ties have contributed to greater economic vitality. In addition to trade facilitation, the BRI has also served as a platform for information sharing and resource pooling, which helped firms improve market judgment and decision-making through enhanced cross-border communication between the business communities. In 2018, the Teochew Entrepreneur Award sponsored by TPIHK was upgraded to the ASEAN Teochew Entrepreneur Award. By uniting companies in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia among other ASEAN member states, we hoped to create a platform of exchange for Teochew businessmen in the region and help them seize better opportunities under the BRI framework.

Looking ahead, I think the BRI cooperation on technology enjoys bright prospects. From high-speed rail construction to the development of 5G networking and autonomous cars, technological cooperation has played an important role in implementing the BRI. I believe that in the next 10 years, more business opportunities will arise from areas including the digital economy, artificial intelligence, and 5G technology. Increased BRI cooperation on digital infrastructure is expected to ensure more reliable data transfer at a higher speed, which will provide underlying support to the development of convenient cross-border payment systems and the digital transformation of countries along the route.

What preferential measures from the Chinese government would overseas Chinese communities want?

Dr. Goh: The first would be tax policies such as reductions on property taxes. The second is preferential policies for business cooperation such as providing concessional loans and lowering tariffs. The third would be training and scholarship programs designed to help overseas Chinese businessmen gain a better understanding of China's regulations and policies on investment and business operation as well as acquire practical know-how on business management.

In recent years, has the younger generation of overseas Chinese shown more enthusiasm about doing business in China?

Dr. Goh: Yes. The younger generation of Chinese in Singapore have shown an increased interest in starting businesses in China. Inspired by China's economic development and stronger policy support for innovation and entrepreneurship, more and more young overseas Chinese are paying attention to business opportunities in China and taking active steps in this respect. The implementation of the BRI and the ASEAN Economic Community presents both opportunities and challenges for them.

I am always reminding young people I meet about the business opportunities in China. I tell them that if they want to learn how to do business and make a fortune, they should go to China. I believe that the younger generation of Teochews will continue to pool their efforts to make greater contributions to China-ASEAN cooperation and economic and trade cooperation among countries along the Belt and Road.

Source: China Report ASEAN