Roe Goddard on China

By: Keith Blincoe, Staff Writer

Professor Roe Goddard currently teaches Regional Business Environment: Asia for the my cohort. I sat down with him to talk about China—a country he has visited over 75 times.

Das Tor: When was the first time you went to China?

Roe Goddard: 1988. I started going more after the mid-90s, after Tiananmen Square.

DT: How did Tiananmen Square affect China at the time?

RG: There was a slight dip in foreign investment and other activity, but it didn’t take long for foreign direct investment to spike up again. But in 1995 things really started to accelerate. It didn’t begin right in ’78. It was gradual. It started in the Special Economic Zones, and gradually expanded from there.

When I was in grad school in South Carolina—a third-world state!—we had the largest number of [international political economy] specialists in the country and not one was a China specialist. This was in the mid and latter 80s. It really took a long time. ‘95 was the real turning point.

DT: Why do so many foreign companies underestimate the difficulties of working in China?

RG: They’re overly confident. Business people are supposed to be can-do. There’s a little bit of a superiority idea too. ‘I’ll show them how it’s done.’ And it’s naivete: they don’t appreciate the subtlety of the language, the history, the culture.

DT: How does corruption affect American businesses in China?

RG: U.S. businesses have always hidden behind the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I’ve asked this question hundreds of times of American executives. When they’re asked to sweeten the pot, they hide behind the fact that this could land them in jail. At the same time, they’ll have someone who’s Chinese and working for the guanxi department. And he’ll do little things, like taking them out to lunch, or seeing if he can help their kids get into an elite school.

They like dealing with Americans because it’s simpler compared to working with people from other foreign countries and Americans because Americans don’t tend to give in.

There’s a distinction between a gift that’s intended to change a decision and one’s that’s trying to change the speed at which it is made. If it’s just to make something faster, that’s not viewed as a bribe.

DT: What can you tell me about your experiences in Western China?

RG: The farthest west I’ve been is Lanzhou, but I do have a story. I had a Turkish student in Shanghai. He was homesick. He wanted to fly out to Urumqi because he heard it was kind of like home. When he came back, I’ll never forget it—he was like a new person. He said he felt like it was Turkey. He could sit down and talk with them. There was no language issue for him. It was a four or five-hour flight. It’s like flying across the U.S. At that time they were still flying the Tupolev and the Ilyushins—which were clunkers and scary. I used to look at the flight numbers and I could tell what type of aircraft I was on. And it wasn’t pleasant.

DT: What do you think of the recent border conflicts between China and Myanmar?

RG: That’s new. It depends on the extent that Myanmar becomes destabilized with the military giving up power to democratic rule, and with the Muslim minority called the Karins. China has had trouble with the Karin militants too as well as other criminal elements, including some from Vietnam.

DT: If the Karin were granted autonomy would that help things?

RG: Who knows? It depends on who rises to power. It’s usually the people with guns.

DT: What do you think of China’s many territorial disputes?

RG: Have you seen these sand piles? It’s amazing. It’s scary from an environmental perspective.

DT: Domestic actors have an interest in fanning the flames. Is it in anyone’s interests to resolve the issues?

RG: No. The think tanks, the NGOs—it’s not a peace issue, it’s an issue of survival and access to resources.  We talk about civil society. After the earthquake in Sichuan, people thought that would be the beginning of civil society in China. It hasn’t happened—partly because the government suppresses it.

DT: What do you like most about teaching international studies?

RG: I’m an integrator. I like to help people make connections between disparate things around the world. Ultimately it’s about assessing risk, if you want to put it in business terms.

DT: What’s something that’s hard to communicate to students?

RG: If you define GPE as the determination of who gets what, when, where, why, and how, I wish students would see and be critical of all of the ‘isms’—Capitalism, Marxism—that are used all over the world and are ultimately self-serving.

DT: If they got rid of them, would they get another one or would they be rid of their ideological blinders?

RG: They’d probably just get new ones. It would depend on their position—manager, worker.

DT: Professor Goddard, thank you for your time!goddard

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