I was recently nominated by Business Unity SA (Busa) to represent business at an employment creation and economic development seminar for developing countries in China. The invitation was extended to business by the Chinese government and the trip was fully funded by them.

I am grateful to have been selected and am humbled by the generosity of the Chinese government and its willingness to share insights and strategy with us.

It was interesting to learn that China’s massive growth in gross domestic product is predominantly from foreign direct investment and not, as I previously believed, from manufacturing.

One of the things that impressed me was the level of strategic planning, the relatively quick implementation and the constant monitoring of progress.

The Chinese leadership establish where there are weaknesses or shortcomings, immediately develop policy to counter the weaknesses and then act.

Central planning certainly helps their ability to act quickly, but what struck me most was that the strong identity of the Chinese culture and unity of the Chinese people count very much in their favour.

The Chinese government is developing trade relationships with as many countries as possible and then incentivising small to medium enterprises to establish businesses in these countries.

Not only are the incentives attractive to people, they are excited about the prospects of a better life and, of course, the one child policy doesn’t apply outside China.

What this means is that China has greater access to these foreign markets through the newly established communities, and ultimately, because of the unity of the Chinese people, these communities, over time, will become significant minorities and will eventually begin to have an influence on policy development in these countries.

One area of weakness that the Chinese government has identified is a lack of technological know-how.

Much of the existing technology is owned by the West, and to become more competitive, the Chinese authorities have realised that they need to increase their capacity in this area significantly.

They need to be at the cutting edge of technological development to get ahead, instead of importing the know-how, as they do now. The country has recently embarked on a talent attraction programme, designed to attract highly educated and talented Chinese people that live elsewhere in the world, back to China.

Both of the above policies will reap rewards for China. They both, however, present challenges for us.

It occurred to me that our failure to unify properly and to build a strong cultural identity is very costly indeed, not only on a social level, but on the economic competitiveness front too.

We must be careful not to water down our identity to such an extent that it isn’t clearly identifiable. It is absolutely essential for us to build unity and a strong South African identity, one we can all be proud of.