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Trading nations

Updated: 2013-01-25 11:57
By Zhang Haizhou and Xu Junqian ( China Daily)

Yiwu, Shi says, is "a perfect partner" for emerging markets in Africa or South America in dire need of traditional products, and not necessarily high-end ones.

The city will also continue to be the global commodity center even if the Chinese economy shifts from export orientation to being more reliant on domestic needs, he says.

For analysts, Yiwu stands for far more than business; the small city is also emblematic of China's relations with Africa.

"Yiwu extends the relationship between China and Africa to a wider realm because of its prosperous international trade activities, especially Sino-African business activities," Ma, the analyst with Zhejiang Normal University, wrote in Yiwu Mode and Sino-African Relations, published in the seventh issue of the Journal of Cambridge Studies last year.

She argues that China-Africa relations, since their establishment in the 1960s, have "especially focused on" political cooperation, while "political, national and central government dominant" were the basic characteristics of the initial stages.

Yiwu has played a positive role in the ties' transformation to a business and people-to-people one.

Ma, in an interview with China Daily, calls foreign business people settling in Yiwu the city's "new immigrants".

"They adapt into the local culture and life, making these not just foreign businesses. These foreign businessmen's new identity is cultural links between China and other nations."

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There is no record of when the first African arrived in Yiwu for business, but even after the arrival of thousands of them, integration is a challenge. That remains the case even though they can finds dozens, if not hundreds, of their home countries' restaurants.

Chinese language is a big hurdle. Mamadou Sall still remembers people's curious eyes when he first arrived in 1999.

"Chinese people didn't often see black people, (they were) not that open to the world. We had curiosity when they saw black people."

It took him two years to adapt to local life and business, he says, and more than 10 years later he still relies on translators when doing business.

Sall says one more difficulty is that he cannot find any international school for his three children.

They now go to ordinary schools with others from all over the world. Nine middle and high schools, five primary schools and one kindergarten are eligible to recruit foreign students.

For adults, Yiwu has 51 language schools, many offering Chinese courses.

Harson Foreign Language Training Center, founded in 1998, is the oldest one in town. It has about 170 foreign students in five classes, says Chen Jie, an English graduate from Xi'an Foreign Language University in Shaanxi province and a Chinese teacher there. About 30 percent of them are from Africa.

Compared with other Chinese classes for foreigners elsewhere, Chen says Harson has developed its own textbooks to fit the need of its students, 90 percent of whom are company owners in Yiwu.

"We offer the most practical Chinese courses. You can find no textbook that fits our need in the market," she says, adding that foreign students are taught useful business terms in three months.

Harson started to offer Chinese courses in 2001. Chen, who has been working at Harson since 2006, says she has also noticed that the average Chinese level of her students when entering Harson has improved in recent years.

The integration of Africans into local life is now "very good", says Gong Sujuan, associate professor and director of the international office at Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College.

Yiwu, which used to be a small town with only two major roads before international trade came to the city, is now very open to foreign culture and issues, Gong says. The Institute of African Studies of Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua, 30 minutes away by train, set up in 2009?? a Yiwu Research Centre at the college in 2011?? focusing on the African community there.

Gong, who heads the center, says it will publish annual reports on the condition of Africans in Yiwu.

The number of foreign students who have studied at the college has reached nearly 2,000, more than 30 of them from Africa, since 2007, she says.

There are now 618 foreign students, 186 from Africa. Though the college now offers Chinese-language courses to international students only, it hopes to do more in the future.

"Training international students is one of our specialties," Gong says. "We'll combine language training with some disciplines, like international trade and marketing"

Contact the writers at HYPERLINK "mailto:zhanghaizhou@chinadaily.com.cn" zhanghaizhou@chinadaily.com.cn and HYPERLINK "mailto:xujunqian@chinadaily.com.cn" xujunqian@chinadaily.com.cn

Trading nations

(China Daily 01/25/2013 page1)

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