I spent 4 days in Shanghai last week. It rained for every minute of every day – a typhoon was in the area. Even in China, the weather is uncontrollable.
There is, I suspect, nothing that can be said about Shanghai that is untrue. It’s a remarkable place. And particularly remarkable is that 20 years ago, most of it was undeveloped. It is said that at one point 16% of the world’s cranes were located on or near the Shanghai Bund. I haven’t verified this – as we all know, 78.3% of all the world’s statistics are invented on the spot.
My visit was to attend the annual conference of our international lawyers' network, Consulegis. Consulegis is an association of law firms similar to our own from across the world – compact, partner-led, and focused on businesses and international trade. We know our fellow members well now, and they are a thoroughly rewarding group of people. As ever, the conversation was wide-ranging and fascinating.
There is a current fad for commentators on almost anything to describe '5 things we have learned about…' whatever they may be commenting on. One of our German friends at the conference was intrigued by this; why 5? Why any number? Why not simply comment? With his skepticism ringing in my ears, I persuaded him that we should try to divine 5 lessons we have learned from the Consulegis Conference in Shanghai, October 2016. This is what we came up with.
- In Shanghai, you could be anywhere. On the surface at least, it’s a remarkable western city. Dig a bit, and it’s very Chinese. So, lesson 1 is don’t let appearances in China fool you.
- China is a juggernaut. Every Chinese colleague we met (and meeting Chinese business was a core purpose of the conference) made it clear, some deliberately and some in passing, that China’s economic muscle is vast. No one can ignore it. Events that cause China only to sneeze economically will give us an economic disease like from a dodgy Sci-Fi horror film. Lesson 2 is that China simply cannot be ignored, anywhere or anytime.
- The ubiquity of the English language is remarkable. Italian colleagues speak with German colleagues in English. Chinese street traders speak with everyone in English. We Brits continue to feel embarrassed that we can only speak in English. No one really minds. Lesson 3 is that our language may preserve a key place for us in the world, whatever our politicians do.
- None of us should be fooled into thinking that our own world stops at our boundary. The world is vast, and uncontrollably interlinked. The vastness of China is just one part of it. The world, its well being and wealth will sweep on past us as we in the UK debate immigration and “taking back control”. Lesson 4 is that control no longer appears to be the question; participation is vital, whether across Europe, or the world, and how to participate fully is the proper question. Look at what China has done.
- We have learned and gained much from our international participation over a number of years. Our Consulegis colleagues will continue to participate with us, and we with them. But all of them, from Europe and beyond, are perplexed that the UK thought Brexit was an answer to any question that currently confronts us. China is just one place of many that will roll on without regard to our insularity. Lesson 5 is that, come what may, Capital will continue to participate, with joy and anticipation, with our Consulegis colleagues.