Interview for Dominique de Boisseson, Former Chairman & CEO of Alcatel China
How long have you been/have you spent in China?
I lived in China from January 1997 to June 2015. My job was chair & CEO of Alcatel China until June 2007. I then decided to stay in China and moved on to other activities.
How did you first get involved in the European Chamber’s work and what were some of the main challenges then?
I was invited by a group of businessmen coming from Beijing to a lunch in Shanghai, I believe it was late ‘97 or early ‘98, to discuss the possibility of creating a European Chamber in China. I supported the idea, and Alcatel became a founding member. I however refused to be involved personally as I was too busy at the time. My activity was therefore limited to the information technology and telecom fields.
The telecommunications industry was considered by the Chinese Government in ‘97 to be key to the country’s economic development. A strong investment programme in infrastructure was therefore put in place. This initially meant strong reliance on foreign suppliers, European in particular. European operators also saw an opportunity and all opened offices in China. China’s World Trade Organization admission fuelled hopes of changes in December 2001.
The end result was quite disappointing as:
– China licences given to foreign operators were very limited in number and scope; and
– orders to foreign suppliers began to slow down as local manufacturers became ready to supply more and more advanced technology, starting initially with commodity products.
We kept fighting for a more open approach but with limited results, in spite of strong support from the European Union (EU).
In its 20-year history, what would you say is the European Chamber’s biggest accomplishment?
Creating a very professional and credible entity, a good partner to the Chinese Government, credible on the EU side, and considered as a model by the American and Japanese chambers.
What’s the difference of China’s business/regulatory environment in your industry today vs. 20 years ago?
Chinese players are today in a totally different situation: Chinese operators have the most subscribers worldwide, the Internet has brought very advanced new players in e-commerce, gaming, and other sectors with applications more advanced in many domains than their foreign counterparts. On the equipment side, Chinese suppliers are now the largest worldwide and benefit from strong government support, including its non-interference policy which allows entry into many markets closed to western suppliers.
How do you expect to see China’s business/regulatory environment to change in 20 years?
Change will come only through strong pressure for equal treatment for all players in China and abroad
What role do you expect the European Chamber to take in the next 20 years?
Make sure the European voice is heard and avoid separate deals between the United States (US) and China whenever possible.
A particular challenge will be to continue to present a united front following Brexit.
What value has the European Chamber brought to you/your company/your industry?
Access to the government at the highest levels both in Europe and China.
A way to consolidate a unique view at the EU level.
Do you remember the European Chamber’s first government meeting you attended, who it was with and how you were received?
Do you feel that the Chinese authorities care about the Chamber’s messaging and recommendations?
Yes, as they have a very professional attitude to analyse world markets’ evolution and China’s future role.
Currently, the lack of European integration is an issue and weakens our position.
As you reflect on your time in the Chamber over the past years, what comes to mind?
The necessity of having a clear staff policy to prevent disappointment
What is the best piece of advice you can give the European Chamber for the coming year?
The economic war with the US is just starting. The EU, and in particular the European Chamber, must keep its independence, to be able to influence the outcome of many issues according to its interests and the best global outcome.Dominique de Boisseson, Former Chairman & CEO of Alcatel China