People and Places

Report from China

Posted on April 7, 2009

Greetings from Beijing.

I am here this week to meet with our staff here, work through the FY10 budget, and, most importantly, meet with our key partners at Southwest University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) on our project to bring online programs into China.  The meetings have been very productive.  Indeed, in FY10 I expect that we will enroll our first students, run a surplus, and maybe even offset much of this year’s spending.

Indeed, we are now starting to have conversations about capacity.  Long time China veterans tell us that the first challenge is to get traction and that stage can take a long time and requires dogged peersistance.  Then, when one does get traction, the next challenge is coping with the large numbers that can quickly hit you.  Thus the capacity discussions.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s enormous work still to be done and there are always risks, but I think FY10 will be our turn the corner year.

As always, China is a fascinating place.  Last night our SWUFE hosts took us to dinner at the most prestigious private club in Beijing.  This sort of place didn’t exists 15 years ago.  I then found myself in a discussion with a Dean who is a lifelong member of the Communist Party and he shared with me his worry that Obama is poised to tax the very wealthy, is seeking to “redistribute wealth,” and that many poor suffer because they are unmotivated.  I, on the other hand, was trying to make a case for undoing major tax cuts from the Bush era, strengthening the middle class, and creating programs to help the poor.

It suddenly occurred to me that the Communist sounded like some Republican friends of mine and I probably sounded like some of his old Communist colleagues.  Amazing – the world is turning upside down here in China.

A SWUFE attorney who frequently travels to the US (and is a member of the NY Bar) said she likes the US because nothing changes, it is peaceful and quiet, and there is little stress.  In contrast, she said, China is dynamic and the place to be if you want opportunity or to make money or to make something of yourself.  Again, I had this revelation that in the past a European might have said the same thing about Europe versus the US, with the latter being the site of opportunity.

Americans used to think of Europe as quaint and old fashioned and maybe a little behind the times.  Accurate or not, I think much of Asia sees the US in the same way.  There is a boldness and newfound swagger here that many used to associate with us.

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