Peering up from our Family Mart lunchboxes (we don’t do KFC or McDonalds no more) from the conference room table, the editors at CER can see over People’s Square and long into the distance on a bright day. Sometimes, chairs are tilted backwards, and we peer down to survey the streets below. Occasionally, somebody from the ground looks up and we tilt back inwards.
For the average foreigner, life in China can be like that: Using our daily interactions with the local community as a window into their world, the locals also look back at us and wonder what’s going on. That curiosity can take on an evangelical fervor, especially among antitrust ministries. This week investigators popped into the offices of Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft and accountants Accenture for a friendly chat and a cup of tea sans biscuits. They visited Audi last week, as well as Microsoft. Instead of worrying about protectionism, though, perhaps the foreign community should be optimistic. Could it not be that officials are engaging in anthropology?
Hit any bar in Laowai Dipan, the enclaves of isolation that many foreigners choose to live in, after work and the chat inevitably turns to concerns about the status of outsiders in China. Are they less welcome now? Are they being picked on? Did you hear about that nice Canadian couple arrested for running a coffee shop near the Korean border? For sure these worries are not unfounded, but many foreigners see themselves above the law. Why should they need to pay taxes, have a valid work visa or need a license to drive a scooter around town? In the business community, many companies bend the rules for a quick buck; product prices are sometimes inflated and monopolistic practices engaged in from time to time. The current situation is tough, but it is even tougher for ordinary people. They can’t even be free to send childish stickers on WeChat anymore or go to work in factories without the fear that they will blow up.
In any case the foreigners shouldn’t worry, especially the Brits. If you do get arrested for any wrongdoing the chaps at Downing Street will cast aside commercial opportunities in the world’s most important market and fight for justice for their companies and citizens. Oh, wait…