Internationalization towards China after its Accession to the WTO. Are There Opportunities for European SMEs? (Mattias Grillet)


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In October 2001, Fortisbank, through Prof. C. Defoort, asked if someone was interested in writing a thesis about “Opportunities for European SMEs in China after its accession to the WTO”.  This bank also offered an internship in Shanghai to make it possible to do research on site, something that is not always so easy for student, who studies about China.  Surprisingly at that time, with the exception of myself, very few students were interested in either the topic presented, or in going back to China.  This disinterest may have been because many of us had just returned from China, and were a little bit tired with China in general (the majority of us had studied in China from September 2000 until July 2001).

So in July of 2002, I went to Shanghai to do one month of research about the opportunities for European SMEs in China.  It was the first time I had done research, and honestly at the time it was not so clear in which direction my thesis would evolve.  The first job in Shanghai was to get in contact with managers of SMEs, or other people who have a good grasp of the situation.  Based on personal experiences –as a foreign student in China I often had to pay more for whatever product or service I needed just because I was a foreigner- and based on the book by Joe Studwell, “The China Dream”, in which he points out that many foreign companies lost a lot of money in China, I assumed it was impossible for foreign companies to make a profit in China.  By speaking with European businessmen in Shanghai about this hypothesis, it slowly became clear on which points that this hypothesis was wrong, and that opportunities for SMEs could be found.

Back in Europe, some time was needed to digest the information and experiences and to work with the data I had collected.  After analyzing the collected data, the search for a theoretical framework began.  In February 2003, the first two parts of this thesis were finally put down on paper.  In April 2003, China Europe Management Center offered another chance to do some additional research in Shanghai.  As well as collecting essential data to support the theoretical framework of my thesis, we verified how far the interviewed enterprises still supported the statements they had made nine months ago.   The final version of this thesis was finished at the end of May 2003.


I owe a lot of gratitude to many people, without which this thesis would not have been possible.  First of all I would like to thank my promotor Prof. Daniel Van Den Bulcke for the trust, advice, and support he gave me, and Aernout Beke who helped me in Shanghai.  I would also like to thank all the following businessmen in Shanghai who sacrificed some of their precious time to contribute to this research:  Lawrence Absalon of MDD, Jan Borgonjon of InterChina, Olivier Ceccaldi of IER, Olaf Claessens and Lyne Herbots of Sismo Systems, Jurgen Cop and Julie Yan of Reynaers, Pascal Coppens of Eonic/Windriver, Hans De Gusseme of Picanol, Wim De Vos and Frank Christiaens of Barco, Christophe Hoet of Blue Lotus (Umicore), Kristien Loontjes of Ensysta, Jennifer Lu and Nadine Mestdagh of Stow, Stefan Schodts of Automatic Systems, Karl Sanders of LBC, Hans van der laarse of Microvert, Yu Zhe Shi of Eternit, Stefaan Wayenberge and Hilde Aerssens of BTT.  I thank Peter Christiaen, Linda Hu and Siegfried Verheycke of Export Vlaanderen, Ivan Korsak of Export Brussels, Chris Torrens of AccessAsia and Eric Versavel and Piter de Jong of ING for their useful advice and assistance.

Furthermore I would like to thank prof. Aimé Heene for the paper he sent me, Elizabeth Grigor and Mike Callahan for the correction of the grammar of this thesis, everybody from the Sinology department in Leuven for the good education they gave me, and my parents, who also in times of viruses threatening the Asian continent kept on supporting me.

Last but not least I would like to thank Fortisbank, more precisely Karel De Maesschalck and Danny Ip for the internship of July 2002 at the Shanghai branch of Fortisbank and Chris Morel and the China Europe Management Center for their financial support both in July 2002 and April 2003.  Without these people, this thesis would not have been possible.


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