The world convenes in The Hague

For just a few days, my city The Hague was the center of the world. That’s what it felt like at least, with over 50 heads of state in town for the Nuclear Security Summit.

The city was in a security lock-down for the past few days with the ominous noise of helicopters hovering above everywhere you went. However, these heads of state were not just here to talk about safeguarding nuclear material. Included also were museum visits, business conventions, and many many bilateral & multilateral discussions about all those other things happening in the world today. Most notably: Ukraine.

But for East Asia-watchers, this past week has been interesting as well.

President Xi Jinping of China combined the NSS with an official state visit to the Netherlands, which included time with the King & Queen but also a major business conference on Sunday for the 200 business delegates that followed him here. I probably missed a unique opportunity by not attending this event, despite it being an afternoon mostly filled with ceremony from what I’ve heard.

The other major leader of an East Asian state was here as well: Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Having followed his career for much longer, and being much more familiar with Japanese politics, this visit seemed a lot more exciting – but it wasn’t combined with a business delegation. Abe’s schedule did include business: he visited a horticultural region in the country famous for its greenhouse technology. Several companies in this Dutch industry are working on building a presence on the Japanese market, including supporting the rebuilding of the agricultural sector in the Tohoku region.

And then there were the bilateral talks.

One reason why I find East Asia so fascinating is the diversity of politics, economy, history, culture in each of the countries that make up the region. No country is the same. And none of them get along.

President Obama put in some effort to get some of these countries at the table, and last night he met with President Park of South Korea and PM Abe. There were also talks with China.

As the New York Times writes:

The diplomacy of northeast Asia is a little like junior prom: Cathy won’t sit with Jamie, but maybe she would if Sally comes over and sits with them.

It’s quite amazing to realize the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’. And events like these are rare opportunities where the leaders of the world get to do those quick face to face talks that are sometimes necessary to smooth things out – just like regular people might do in a work situation with colleagues who you talk to quickly at the end of a meeting to discuss something. But in this case, it concerns high-level diplomacy.

Pretty unique to ‘see’ that happening in your home town.

Weekend reading: Beijing vs Delhi, SMEs vs MNCs and Sochi

This weekend I spent almost completely at the Korzo Theater for the Holland Dance Festival: seeing an expressive dance performance on stage, but also getting a glimpse of different workshops on Saturday and Sunday for dance professionals by well-known Dutch choreographers. I’ve loved getting this behind-the-scenes look at how dance is created. Listening in on a workshop on choreography where workshop leader Soosan Gilson shared some of the essential ingredients of the creative process, I also realized that maybe this isn’t so different from the process of developing yourself as an entrepreneur and creating (and realizing) business ideas. This also takes time and you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

“You have to enjoy being lost.”

With those words, below is a belated selection of articles and online reading of the past week which I thought are worth sharing. Happy reading!

Beijing vs Delhi

There’s always a lot being written about the (bad) state of the environment in China. So why is it we hear so much less about pollution in that other big Asian giant, India? As it turns out, the level of air pollution in Delhi is worse than in Beijing yet we don’t hear about it and neither is this a (political) issue in the city itself. ChinaDialogue explores why this is.

SMEs vs MNCs

The following link is to only a short article, yet I thought it was quite an interesting illustration that yes, indeed, the questions that small businesses and large multinationals are confronted with are largely the same. It’s easy to think that these would be widely different. What IS different though is how a business can deal with these questions. Whereas MNCs will often have their own specialists in house or have more resources to get in the needed expertise, this is a lot more difficult for SMEs to do easily. This is also why several government programmes (for instance, in the field of international business or CSR expertise) are aimed specifically to SMEs.

The Olympics, business & human rights

There’s no escaping it for the next two weeks, so why avoid it on here: the 2014 Winter Olympics started on Friday in Russia. The Dutch are off to a golden start. But, the Olympics have also been surrounded by a lot of controversy this time: gay rights, corruption and exploitation of migrant workers are just a few examples. But an article in The Guardian on Friday asks what companies connected to the Olympic Games have done to speak out about these topics. Does business have a responsibility to speak up?

I’m leaving you with a long-read still on my wishlist for later: the Council on Foreign Relations published an extensive piece on China’s environmental crisis which looks like an interesting read.

The picture accompanying this post is not actually taken at this year’s Holland Dance Festival – I wasn’t able to take any good shots this time. So instead, I’ve used one from last year’s Cadance Festival.

Japan in Shanghai

Time for a confession: I’ve loved all the things Japanese in Shanghai while I was there.

Of course, Japan and China are tightly linked together. In all manner of ways: historically, culturally, (geo)politically, economically – and usually, it’s the bad stuff that hits the media. The rows (admittedly, across East-Asia, not just with China) when a Japanese PM visits Yasukuni shrine. The disagreement on the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. And really every time that Japan or a Japanese politician does something that doesn’t agree with its neighbours.

But: it isn’t all bad stuff. In fact, Japan is probably the most present foreign influence in Shanghai (this is probably different across China, and Japan’s influence is likely to be less away from the East Coast). It’s everywhere. And I doubt Chinese consumers are always aware of the fact that a certain brand, product or company is even Japanese (though possibly I should give them more credit)

Most obvious are all the Japanese restaurants in the city. Anything you’d like you can eat: of course sushi and sashimi, but there are tons of ramen restaurants, Japanese curry, and I also found okonomiyaki and takoyaki. All the major chains are here: from Saizeriya to Yamazaki bakery and from Ippudo ramen to Yoshinoya. And for good prices – or at least, much better prices than at home so I’ve filled up on my Japanese food cravings for a while. They’re popular with the Chinese too: often the restaurants were very busy.

There’s more Japanese food: in the few supermarkets I visited there were a lot of Japanese products on the shelves. Typically Japanese food (like the curry packets or instant noodles) but also lots and lots of choice in sweets and chocolate. Again, good news for my regular need for some Pocky’s.

In retail, the perspective is the same. And I also think some of these brands have fairly successfully re-branded themselves as non-Japanese. That is, it’s not visible much that a certain brand is a Japanese brand – the ads are clearly focused on Chinese, or use Caucasian models (as is the case for Uniqlo for example).  Other products do use Japanese words and characters a lot: it’s almost as if there’s been no effort at all to market their product to a different audience – which is the case a lot for the candies and sweets.

In the various galleries and museums I visited there were often a lot of Japanese artists and designers featured. That they are also popular was demonstrated by the massive crowd at the Kusama Yayoi exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

So, what is really happening in the China-Japan relationship? They are clearly economically dependent on each other so how does this reflect on what people think?

When I mentioned or spoke about this to Chinese people I met I got the impression that for the younger generation Japan is often an example of how to organize a country: wealthy, clean, and organized. Several Chinese people I know are learning Japanese: whether out of personal interest, or because they feel it will increase their future career opportunities.

The bad stuff is, of course, there too: the memorial for the Nanjing massacre was renovated several years ago and now offers testimony to the drama that occurred at Nanjing in 1937 at the hands of the Japanese army. Unfortunately, for the second time I was unable to actually see the exhibit myself (this time I found myself in front of a closed memorial; the other time it was under renovation) so that is still on my list of things to do when I’m next back in Nanjing.

Of course, most of these examples are anecdotal (I’m sure there’s research about this out there) but maybe, if it were (more) up to the younger generation, the Sino-Japan relationship might not be in such dire straits.

A quick google already revealed some research on this of course: this is a link to the Genron China – Japan public opinion poll results of August 2013, which looks at how people from one of these countries perceive the other. Not surprisingly, after all the problems in the bilateral relationship, the disapproval rates are pretty high….

Also, this Pew research of last summer has interesting numbers on the view in Asia towards Japan. The China numbers seem to match the numbers of the Genron poll above. Pew also includes many other countries in the region in their research (scroll down to the last paragraph of the article).

A new year: déjà-vu

For the past few days it’s almost felt as if I’m again making plans for a new year, and reflecting what I’ve done so far. And the last time I did that was only a few weeks ago at the end of 2013, preparing for my second year of entrepreneurship.

I guess the start of the year of the Horse is in a way for me a symbolic new start as well. Taking off straight at the start of 2014 for a few weeks here can also be interpreted as a bit of an escape: because properly being in the Netherlands also means finally having to get on with things and get all these ideas in my head going and financially executable. Leaving for Shanghai put off that moment for a bit. Or rather, it was a way to create more of those ideas, or strengthen the ones that are already in there without being in my regular surroundings.

So, while I’m at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport waiting for my flight home I’m taking some time to put a bit more structure to those plans. I started a few days ago with contacting some people to set up a few meetings this week. Because, I’m back in business straight away with a lunch meeting a few hours after I arrive back. Best way to get started it feels.

This month has been good. Hopefully, the posts on this blog have given you some idea of what I’ve been spending my time on (the non-work things are put into visuals on my Flickr stream). I’ve also had to choose more clearly about what I want to focus on as an entrepreneur and the direction I want to go forward in. It reminded me again how scary this can be: how do I know whether saying no to a big potential assignment really is a smart decision? For the moment I have to trust my instincts which are telling me that I made the right choice.

I had three goals for this month:

  • Improve my Chinese
    I still have a long way to go but I feel as if I’m getting a bit of a grip on this language. Though I wish people in the real world would have the patience to allow me to put together a normal sentence
  • Get to know more about local developments on sustainability and CSR (and related topics)
    It’s been great to finally attend some of the network events I follow online in real life, and to meet people with interesting stories to share. Every single meeting and event has given me some new insights in to various topics, which I hope have gotten across here a little. It’s hard to summarize every discussion, and so many things have come up in bits and pieces and only start to make sense when looked at together (a good example of this is a post on entrepreneurship coming up on this blog which combines so many separate things I’ve heard across these weeks).
  • Strengthen my local network on CSR and business in China
    For the most part, this has worked though it has been focused more on the CSR-networks. Some of the people I have met this month who work in this field, I had already been in touch with for a while so it was good to finally be able to talk face to face. And while here I got the opportunity to be involved in a CSR project which the Dutch Consulate General is launching on CSR in the supply chain where I’ve been conducting interviews with CSR managers at a range of Dutch companies based in this region, so this has been a great boost to this third goal.

I guess one other thing I wanted to get out of this month is to get to know this city and its surroundings better. Because being here for only a few days each time doesn’t do that. So I’m happy to have visited so many places, to be wandering across the city (did I mention already that Shanghai is very walkable) and to play tourist in Suzhou and Hangzhou (and a very little bit in Nanjing).

So. Ready to go home.

I’m excited about being back in the Netherlands and continue with all these topics that have come up here. I’m taking home a few project ideas and collaborations (though still very undeveloped, so I won’t spill about them in detail here). But of course: I already have several things to continue working on.

That means that the following week has meetings on CSR in Myanmar, improving supply chains and – of course – some New Year celebrations. And this month also sees another edition of Absolute Asia. The postponed event on CSR in China will also be getting some renewed attention again.

Also, if you want to know more about the topics or projects I’ve been talking about here, please get in touch. Of course, also get in touch if your organisation wants to do something with CSR in Asia. I’m always happy to meet for a coffee to talk through ideas and possibilities.

Weekend reading: on WeChat, ‘sea turtles’ and more

While I’m on a long flight back to Europe, here are some interesting reads from the past week(s) on – mostly – China.

‘Are you on Wechat?’

This is probably one of the questions I’ve heard most while here. So, clearly, this is a major communications channel for people living here. And WeChat is much more than just a Chinese version on Whatsapp, as is explained in this extensive and interesting article on TheNextWeb.

Journey of the ‘Sea Turtles’

Another article on contemporary society in China, posted on TeaLeafNation this week, goes into the background of Chinese who’ve studied abroad and decide to come back to China, or don’t come back, or come back and leave again. It’s a complicated discussion, and the article shares some examples of why this is also a very personal discussion for many Chinese people in this situation. There’s a lot to gain in China in an economic sense: job opportunities and the fact that you are not a migrant in an unknown country, but at the same time this isn’t always as easy as it seems with having to build a new network and being confronted by a lot of social issues (high cost for housing, schools, etc).

Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale

At the moment, the Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale is taking place, which is curated by Dutchman Ole Bouman. As you can tell from this blog I’m interested in (sustainable) urban development, especially as it is such a huge issue in the Chinese context. This article (in Dutch) offers a critical perspective at this year’s biennale, and asks why none of the questions relevant to the ever-continuing Chinese urbanisation are asked at this important event.

Still to see:

And on my list to watch back in the Netherlands is this episode of Rambam on supply chain transparency in the textile industry, specifically focusing on two Dutch companies (Wibra & CoolCat) which have been very negatively featured in the Dutch media the last months (especially CoolCat). From a Dutch perspective, when talking about CSR in international business it almost firstly arrives at supply chains and then it immediately links to the textile industry. I am currently doing some work on this with a group of Dutch companies in Shanghai and am very curious what this programme will present in this case (as especially in the CoolCat case, I think there is a lot of misrepresentation going on).

Weekend reading: on Myanmar, rural China and coal

While I’m out of my routine exploring a relatively new city and meeting many interesting new people, I still keep an eye on anything interesting that pops up online of course. This week I came across a few things I thought are worth sharing.

Due diligence in Myanmar business operations

The Institute for Human Rights and Business published a review of Coca Cola’s report on their Myanmar business operations, which is required by US law currently. I was particularly impressed to read in what way Coca Cola has used this report to describe their due diligence process: how to do business in a high-risk country such as Myanmar while working in line with the company’s internal policies for human rights and other issues.

Both business opportunities in Myanmar and due diligence are important topics in the Netherlands right now. The Social Economic Council will be organizing a conference on how to set up a proper due diligence process within multinational corporations in March, and the Dutch government published their National Action Plan on Human Rights and Business at the end of December. So reading about how a company is successfully putting this in to practice is very interesting – and encouraging!

Life in rural China

I really liked coming across this article earlier this week. It describes a project in China aimed at revitalizing rural China, now that so many people are migrating from the villages to the cities. It shares experiences from the Bishan project where new activities have been started in smaller villages. But, the article also contains links to several Instagram accounts of migrant workers in Beijing, where they share images from their villages when they travel back, such as @Mulanhuangling. Especially timely now that China is getting ready for the spring festival at the end of next week.

The elephant in the room

This afternoon I found this opinion article on CNN by the head of the International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven. In China, the problems with air pollution are well known and one of the main causes – especially in winter – are the coal plants used to generate energy. In this piece, Van der Hoeven has some strong words to say about the necessity to shift away from coal to more sustainable energy options:

When it comes to a sustainable energy profile, we are simply off track — and coal is the elephant in the room.

Good to hear this coming from such a high level. But, when will this lead to any change in world wide energy policies?

China’s soil and food security

And closing off with a China article on food security: huge issue with so many different aspects. This article via UrbaChina touches on the scale of soil contamination and the options the government has to chose from – none of which sound great.

Weekend reading: on plastic bags, CR reporting in Asia & carbon emissions

It’s been a while since I took some time to collect a few interesting online articles for the weekend. So, for your reading pleasure this December weekend, here are a few pieces I think are worth your time.

‘Every little bit helps’?

The Guardian published a piece on the question whether it is really true that, when it comes to adapting to climate change and creating a more sustainable society, every little bit helps: does it matter if you re-use plastic shopping bags? I agree with the conclusion of the author, that small actions such as re-using shopping bags only matter when it is a catalyst for other, more impactful, activities – instead of it remaining a ‘token’ activity.

For me, personally (and I’ve said this before), participating in the No Impact Project has been very important in being that catalyst to make changes in my life (though I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a long way to go).

On reporting about corporate responsibility (CR)

This month saw the publication of KPMG’s survey on CR reporting in 2013. And, one of the main conclusions in the report is that the Asia-Pacific region sees the strongest growth worldwide in CR reporting. This growth – from 49% in 2011 to 71% in 2013 – is attributed in part to new countries being included in the survey (such as Indonesia and Malaysia) but also to, for instance, the introduction of new regulations on voluntary and compulsory CR reporting in India and Singapore.

However, does an increase in reporting about environmental and social issues also mean that these companies are acting more responsibly as well? BusinessWeek looks at CR reporting in China, another Asian country where the number of companies reporting on environmental and social issues has increased strongly. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily correspond to ‘better’ behaviour.

A more in-depth article on CR reporting in China by China Dialogue expands on this point, with examples of companies which have been awarded for their reporting achievements while simultaneously being involved in serious environmental problems caused by their activities. This leads China Dialogue to conclude that CR reporting in China is still mainly greenwashing. It also recommends for more Chinese companies to adhere to international reporting standards (such as GRI) so that the reports will become easier to understand – and become more transparent. Another point in this article is the need for more monitoring of corporate behaviour – and CR reports – so that changes actually happen.

Both of these articles are based on a recent analysis of Syntao on CSR reporting in China.

Reducing carbon emissions

The consultancy firm BSR shares some insights this week on how to improve corporate behaviour, focusing on how companies operating in China can reduce carbon emissions through their supply chain.


Do you want a more regular dose of reading suggestions? I keep track of news on sustainability and CSR also on Twitter, via @MVOinAzie (which translates to ‘CSR in Asia’ but covers many more topics than just CSR). You can find (re)tweets on topics as diverse as sustainable palmoil and labour issues and from South-Korea to India.

Uitgesteld: Succesvol ondernemen in China: seminar over verantwoord zakendoen in China op 11 december

Succesvol ondernemen in China

11 december 2013, Kamer van Koophandel Rotterdam


Update (4/12): dit evenement wordt uitgesteld tot een nader te bepalen moment in 2014.


Update: de laatste sprekers van de middag zijn bekend. Vertegenwoordigers van twee bedrijven komen vertellen over hoe zij omgaan met duurzaamheid en MVO bij hun zakelijke activiteiten in China, Utz Certified & Bugaboo.


Ondernemen in China brengt veel uitdagingen met zich mee: voor zowel bedrijven die importeren uit en produceren in China, als voor bedrijven die de Chinese markt zien als nieuwe afzetmarkt. Steeds vaker gaat het ook over verantwoord ondernemen: want een bedrijf heeft niet alleen impact op de economie, maar ook op mens en milieu. Ook in China. Dat kan nieuwe mogelijkheden met zich mee brengen.

Wilt u weten wat dit betekent voor uw bedrijf? Kom dan 11 december naar de Kamer van Koophandel in Rotterdam.

Wanneer u in China produceert, kan het gaan om arbeidsomstandigheden of milieu. Of als exporteur kunt u geconfronteerd worden met corruptie. Bewust omgaan met deze dilemma’s is goed voor uw bedrijf: u vermindert risico’s (bijvoorbeeld in uw productieketen), u trekt makkelijker financiering aan en bent aantrekkelijker voor consumenten. Dit zorgt voor een toekomstbestendige onderneming, wanneer deze thema’s alleen maar in belang zullen toenemen.

Meer informatie:


Op 11 december staat dan ook de vraag centraal: Wat betekent maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen voor Nederlandse bedrijven actief in China?

Met sprekers die vertellen over genoemde thema’s en over praktische ervaringen met MVO in China geven we antwoord op deze vraag. In de parallelle sessies krijgt u de gelegenheid om in kleinere groep te praten over uw dilemma’s en vragen te stellen. De onderwerpen die centraal zullen staan bij deze thema-sessies zijn arbeidsomstandigheden, corruptie en duurzaamheid. Maar natuurlijk zal er ruimte zijn voor uw vragen over andere zaken.

We zien u graag op 11 december bij de KvK Rotterdam!

Meer informatie

Wat: Succesvol ondernemen in China

Wanneer: 11 december 2013

Waar: Kamer van Koophandel Rotterdam

Aanmelden via: direct aanmelden

Deelname kosten: Kostenloos

Organisatie: Agentschap NL, MACHI, KvK Rotterdam, Kneppelhout & Korthals

Contact: Agentschap NL – afdeling Evenementen
tel nr. 088- 602 9000

Weekend reading: bribery & business, China in the Mekong, and food in the city

Welcome to my new blog space! And my first post written here is, because it’s Saturday, my online discoveries from the past week.

Bribery & business in China
Last week I spoke to a co-worker about CSR in China, and she mentioned that in her view corruption is one of the most difficult issues in China for foreign companies. And the FT is talking about this issue this week, following the bribery scandal at GlaxoSmithKline that broke recently as well. Bottom line: the line between what is business as usual and what is bribery is very blurred.

On environment and China in the Mekong
As usual, this section includes something on China and the environment. China Dialogue has posted several interesting articles this week. One of these talks about how to deal with companies who are heavy polluters.

The second article I’d like to highlight discusses China’s strategy in the Mekong region, mostly focused on infrastructure. But what consequences does this strategy have for topics such as the environment and food security?

To fly or not to fly?
The following article touches on a more general topic, but one which is a bit of a personal dilemma as well: flying. The Guardian’s Jo Confino asks whether it’s okay for sustainability professionals to be jetting all over the world – as many do, including myself (though not nearly as much as some others). For travel within Europe I try to stick to train travel. And I was recently a bit shocked that people from cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam think it very normal to fly to Paris, especially if your work is about promoting sustainable business. But what to do about the trips to Asia… travelling overland isn’t really an option. In a way, it’s even more of an incentive to really make those trips count.

Book recommendation
And not really an article that I found this week, but a recommendation if you’re looking for any books to take on holiday. I’m currently in the middle of Hungry City by Carolyn Steel. I’d heard a lot about it for the last few years or so, and finally got it last week. So good. Really recommended if you love food, but also when you are interested in how cities work, what impact food has on communities etc.

Weekend reading: solar power in Japan, bikes in China and more

Saturday morning, and I’m writing this in a luscious green garden with the sound of birds and a windchime. Perfect start of the weekend. Today’s selection of articles is not a very extensive one. Either I’ve not being paying attention this week or we are really heading into summer.

Solar power in Japan
Speaking of summer – and sun – I caught up on this article from last month on the development of the solar energy industry in Japan, and its potential economic drawbacks by increasing the electricity bill for consumers in a country where electricity already is expensive. Although the article starts off by saying that this could hinder the economic policies set in place by current PM Abe, it doesn’t really elaborate further on the effects on Abenomics.

Stories from Chinese factory managers
One topic that seems to be part of this series almost weekly is the environment in China. While there is a lot of discussion on government policy, response from civilians and, of course, the pollution itself, I haven’t seen many stories highlighting the perspective of one of the sources of this pollution: the factories. Steven Zhang is a Fullbright scholar in China, and his (seemingly new) website Made in China shares his discussions with factory managers on environmental pollution, waste water treatment etc. Looks like an interesting website to continue following.

Bike-sharing in China
China holds many growth records, but did you know that China is also the fastest growing bike-sharing location? Via UrbaChina I just found this post sharing how China & Taiwan are exploring new ways to make using a bicycle more attractive again, including starting up bike-sharing schemes.

Chinese art in Groningen
And closing off with another slightly older post, I just looked up a previous edition of the SinArts Newsletter to read Alex’s review of the current exhibition Fuck Off 2 in the Groninger Museum. Will be going there tomorrow, looking forward to it.