Meaningful Participation and Multistakeholder Engagement: The View from China

Despite being at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic, China has managed to largely restore business as usual due to a combination of targeted lockdowns and data-driven contact tracing. This has resulted in a double-edged sword for multinational companies with operations or investments in the market. While navigating operational challenges and dealing with talent being stuck abroad, companies have also seen opportunities to leverage the relative stability of the China market to make up for lost revenue globally.

By seizing on the latter trend, companies have placed enhanced importance on building relationships with major political, commercial and media stakeholders in China through engagement at events and expos. While some major expos, such as the China International Import Expo (CIIE), were pulled off successfully—albeit in a slightly more scaled down fashion—others such as the Canton Fair relied on virtual participants to maintain their momentum and commercial success.

In the past year, APCO’s experts in Greater China have supported a host of clients at both large and small events. This has revealed a number of key insights for multinational companies, including:

  • Despite the Pandemic’s Challenges, Domestic Events in China Have Continued at Pace. Due to stringent rules, including the need to demonstrate a green “health kit” and in some cases, engage in pre-event quarantine, almost all of China’s major domestic events or expos went ahead as usual—even if some were scaled down or conducted virtually;
  • Local Governments Have Been Introducing More Events at the Local Level. In the last year, China has actually seen an increase in the number of expos and public events, with local governments looking to attract investment, enhance regional development and boost confidence in the Chinese economy. This has presented an opportunity for multinational companies to show commitment to government stakeholders outside of tier-1 cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou;
  • Multinationals Are Leveraging Events to Show Commitment to the China Market. Multinationals are seizing expos and major events as opportunities to demonstrate their long-term commitment to China in the face of geopolitical challenges. While online interactions have grown, a lot of the foreign company executives are pushing for in-person interactions due to the immeasurable value of face-to-face communication with government stakeholders; and
  • More Thought Leadership Efforts. More multinationals are leveraging thought leadership to detail their commitment to China’s national and local development goals through mechanisms such as written contributions to International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council (IBLAC papers). This is a result of ambitious expansion plans in other countries being moved to China as a means to drive revenue during the pandemic.

Key Trends for Multinational Companies

Despite the initial disruption brought about by the pandemic, multinational companies are viewing participation at major events and expos as a means to communicate their long-term commitment to the China market. This is especially important in the face of uncertainties brought about by geopolitical between China and the West, alongside the commercial need to leverage China’s market recovery as a key revenue driver in the COVID-19 era.