Sun, Sep 06, 2009
The Straits Times
The motivator & converter

ONE month after she was elected a government parliamentary committee chairman, Mrs Josephine Teo took over the reins of networking group Business China and became its chief executive.

She replaced Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan, who was appointed a parliamentary secretary.

Business China was set up in 2007 by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It aims to promote bilingualism and biculturalism as well as boost ties between Singapore and China's business communities.

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The road ahead can be bumpy, Mrs Teo says, warning that Singapore's edge in bilingualism is narrowing.

The number of non-Chinese worldwide picking up Mandarin and Chinese nationals mastering English is soaring.

About 40 million people outside China are learning Chinese, according to its Confucius Institute, which has centres across the globe.

Its officials estimate the number will jump to 100 million by the end of next year, says Mrs Teo, who was in China recently.

It was her seventh trip to the Asian giant, since her first visit in 1983. Also, in 1996 and 1997, she and her husband lived in Suzhou when they were working with the China-Singapore Industrial Park Development, now called the Suzhou Industrial Park.

Her husband Teo Eng Cheong, 43, who was then with the Economic Development Board, is now the chief executive of the Competition Commission of Singapore, a government agency that promotes a strong competitive culture and environment in the Singapore economy.

Mrs Teo's many visits have convinced her that China's real pace of development is reflected in the way the country's top 1 per cent live.

Their lifestyle is reflected in the fine-dining restaurants with well-stocked wine cellars and impeccable service. 'These are a far cry from the restaurants I saw in my 1983 trip,' she says.

Equally telling of China's rapid development are the plush, refurbished villas she saw in the old French quarter in Shanghai.

She worries that many Singaporeans are oblivious of the economic challenges posed by China's rapid rise because most who travel there on package tours do not encounter this facet of Chinese society.

Therein lies the challenges facing Business China in its work here: motivating Singaporeans to improve their mastery of the language and to discover more about China, plus providing the opportunities for them to see the many faces of China.

Three target groups

IT IS designing programmes and introducing new initiatives with three groups in mind: Business China's individual members; the employees of its corporate members; and students.

  • The individual

Individual members understand China but want to deepen their knowledge.

For them, a programme is in the works to invite China's eminent thinkers and China experts from across the world to speak on and discuss issues confronting the Asian giant.

These could range from climate change to the economy, says Mrs Teo.

  • Fresh graduates

These employees of Business China's corporate members will get an opportunity to train in China under a programme that will likely roll out in January next year.

They will work in the China offices of these Singapore-based companies, spending six to 12 months there.

'They will work, live, play in China and get to understand what these Singapore companies are aiming to do in the Chinese market,' says Mrs Teo.

This Young Leaders' Programme was designed in collaboration with International Enterprise Singapore.

The goal is to open the eyes of these new graduates to the opportunities in China and motivate them to take on China assignments.

  • Young students

The third target - younger Singaporeans, especially students, whom Business China hopes to attract with initiatives like the CLing Web portal.

The joint venture between Singapore Press Holdings' omy.sg and Business China is an interactive website that aims to pique interest in Chinese with such features as quizzes and pop songs.

Says Mrs Teo: 'This is a group we want to cultivate so that when they enter the workforce, they would want to keep in touch with their bicultural side.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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