By Jackson Venjohn, contributor
In 2018, I spent eight weeks in Beijing at Capital Normal University studying Mandarin in a language-intensive program. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Asia first in Beijing because it is the cultural and political center of China. That summer was particularly impactful because I arrived at the beginning of formal trade friction between the United States and China. I had the opportunity to discuss Sino-U.S. economics with professors, students and newly made Chinese friends in Beijing.
In July 2018, at the International Monetary Forum at Renmin University in Beijing, I heard perspectives on the current U.S.-China trade situation from Chinese and American students attending the world’s top universities. The forum was particularly thought provoking as I recognized that with the possible exception of U.S.-Japan economic friction in the 1980s, looking back on history, there are few historical examples that are appropriate to compare to the current trade situation. The lack of historical basis makes forming an opinion and siphoning out truth on the current complex and controversial trade situation difficult, yet evermore fascinating.
This summer, I was able to return to East Asia for nine weeks in Taipei, Taiwan. Before that, I spent a week in Hong Kong with the purpose of understanding the greater Guangdong region better and strengthening relationships with business professionals in Hong Kong. My weeklong stay coincided with the first week of political demonstrations in Hong Kong. At the time, the magnitude to which these demonstrations would develop was unknown. In that way, I did not consider the situation thoroughly until several days after I had left.
Until arriving in Hong Kong, I had underestimated the differences between mainland China and the Special Administrative Region: language, culture, landscape, economics and politics. As Cantonese is the native dialect in Hong Kong, it felt unusual and uncomfortable being in an Asian city where I could read the characters but could not communicate verbally except through English. However, after several days in the financial center of Asia, I began to grasp just how special Hong Kong is. The vertical nature of the city’s seemingly innumerous skyscrapers fueled by the world’s freest economy and capital markets, is extraordinary given Hong Kong’s steep, mountainous terrain. Pairing the sweltering June heat with humidity seemed to make every trip outside feel like a workout.
After Hong Kong, I arrived in Taiwan to continue working on my Mandarin proficiency at National Taiwan University. While in Taipei, I experienced Taiwan’s rich culture, enjoyed great food, learned how to surf, and appreciated many fun outdoor activities on the beautiful island of Taiwan. In addition, this summer enabled me to compare and contrast the perspectives of cross-strait relations in Taiwan with my valuable experiences from the prior summer in Beijing. Based on my discussions with individuals on both banks of the Taiwan Strait, it seemed those from the mainland generally view the shared history, language, and in some respects, culture with Taiwan as main reasons for re-unifying China. Conversely, it seemed most Taiwanese value the island’s political and economic independence paramount to other reasons for not reunifying. My experiences in mainland China and Taiwan were very positive overall. Individuals from all perspectives welcomed my interest in studying Mandarin and their East-Asian culture.
During this summer’s midterm break, I returned to the mainland briefly, spending three days in Shanghai meeting with business professionals in the financial services industry. It was interesting observing how views of the Sino-U.S. trade friction have shifted since the previous summer. Few college students have the opportunity to understand first-hand the perspectives of the different parties that constitute Greater-China. For these experiences, I am very grateful. Meeting with finance professionals who have “skin in the game” helped me better understand the implications of the U.S.-China trade friction and the outlook of U.S.-China relations going forward. These experiences have been most influential and will likely leave the greatest impact on me.
At the conclusion of my summer program at National Taiwan University, I had the opportunity to present a final thesis project on the “Current Status of East-Asian Financial Markets.” As our world becomes more and more globalized and while East-Asian economies continue to expand and develop, one area that has particularly interested me among others is cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
When a Chinese company acquires a U.S. company (or any foreign company for that matter), there are serious implications that are not necessarily present in domestic mergers or acquisitions. Among these are different legal systems, languages and cultural norms that make valuing how companies might synergize and work together among the most interesting challenges. International M&A activity continues to be a catalyst for growth and acts as the “tendons and ligaments” of cross-border relations both economically and politically. This past summer while in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, I was able to strengthen relationships with professionals in key industries, understand better the complex history and political nuances of Greater-China, solidifying my strong desire to return soon.