China wants to import Israeli tech — and Israeli spirit, too

A top official in one of China’s up-and-coming cities sees Israel’s start-up culture as something his country needs to emulate

Left to right: Eran Lesser, co-chairman of Matrix and John Bryce Training, with Stone Shi, deputy administrator of the Wujin high-tech industrial zone in Changzhou (photo credit: Courtesy)
Left to right: Eran Lesser, co-chairman of Matrix and John Bryce Training, with Stone Shi, deputy administrator of the Wujin high-tech industrial zone in Changzhou (photo credit: Courtesy)

As Israel and China draw closer, the cultural differences between the two societies become more apparent: the Chinese are generally cautious, polite, and put much of their effort into working for the greater good of society. This is unlike Israelis, who are more brash, independent-minded, daring, and active.

And it’s just those qualities that China is interested in fostering among its hundreds of thousands of engineers and computer experts, said Stone Shi, administrator of the Wujin high-tech industrial zone in Changzhou.

Stone was in Israel, along with a delegation of Chinese business and government officials, to foster ties between Israeli high-tech companies and Changzhou, located about 100 miles from Shanghai in the southern Yangtze River Delta. Changzhou has been promoting itself as a high-tech industrial zone for the past several years and in 2006 was named a National High-Tech District by Beijing, making it eligible for government investment and providing companies that set up shop there with special breaks. And the strategy has worked: More than 1,300 foreign companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies, have facilities there, as do over 5,000 local enterprises, many of them partners with American and European companies.

With all that, though, Changzhou sees Israel as a preferred partner to do business with, Stone told The Times of Israel. Despite the fact that corporate giants like Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and many others have large plants there, “most of the work provided by these companies is lower-level assembly work. As workers’ wages rise, there will come a point where these companies will find manpower too expensive. We have to prepare for a future in which we are able to develop our own high-tech industry, using our home-grown talent,” Stone said.

However, Stone added, the multinationals that were already in Changzhou made huge contributions to the local economy — and to the development of talent. “They brought in advanced management skills which locals have picked up on, and these of course are essential skills for business development.” Still, he said, what’s missing is that “edge,” where entrepreneurs are willing to take a chance on their ideas, even at the risk of failure. That, he said, was something that Chinese entrepreneurs would be able to learn from Israelis.

Leading the Changzhou mission was the district mayor, Yao Xiaodong, who signed a deal with Israel’s Matrix IT development company to open a new development center in Changzhou. “We’re very excited about this deal with Matrix, because we believe they will be able to help us develop the kinds of skills we need to become entrepreneurs on the Israeli model,” Stone said. The fact that the mayor led the delegation was significant, said Zvi Shalgo of the PTL Group, a China expert who has worked with Changzhou and other Chinese cities, setting up business deals and partnerships. “In China, a mayor is much more powerful than in Israel or the US They are more like governors, and have a great deal of decision-making power. So the fact that the mayor himself came to Israel shows how important working with Israel is for Changzhou.”

What technologies is Changzhou looking for in Israel? “All the high-tech, alternative energy, and environmental technologies we can find,” said Stone. “China needs help in all those areas.” China has made a strategic commitment to switching to as many alternative energy sources — including solar and nuclear power — as possible, as the bill for foreign oil continues to rise. Many of China’s waterways are polluted, said Stone, and the country needs to grow more food for its 1.2 billion people. “Israeli technology has found ways to overcome many of the problems we have, and we want to bring those technologies to China,” Stone added.

And of course, China is very interested in importing Israel’s “start-up spirit,” said Stone. “Our cultures may be different, but we both are very practical peoples. I know that many Israeli businesses see China as a great profit opportunity, and it certainly can be. This is a golden opportunity for us to help each other.”

read more: