Gu Chun graduated from the East China Institute of Politics & Law in Shanghai in 1989, serving as a judge and then as a civil servant in her native Jiangsu province. From there, however, her career took a swerve; she decided to go to Sweden and study law. Today she works for Vinge, an international Swedish law firm, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investment and intellectual property rights. She spoke to CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about learning Swedish, Scandinavian entrepreneurs and why Chinese firms are looking to invest in Sweden.
Q: The decision to study law in Sweden seems a bit unusual. How did it come about?
A: To be honest, as a public servant I earned very little money. I started work in 1989, and at that time you know how China was. Of course I had thought about studying in the US but I would have had to spend all my family’s savings. Living in Sweden is not cheap, but the education was free, which was very attractive. I also had a relative who had moved there in the early 1980s, so I knew a bit about the country. So I went to Sweden, and got my legal degree in international law from Stockholm University in 1998. I also spent one year studying Swedish, so it was quite natural for me to work with Scandinavian companies.
Q: How hard was it to learn Swedish?
A: It’s quite hard. The language itself is difficult, but also the way they teach languages in Sweden is very different from the way they teach English in China. I think it’s more effective. I don’t believe I could read and speak as much Swedish as I do if I had learned it in the same way that I learned English.
Q: How did you like Sweden?
A: I liked it very much. People are generally very nice. When I first got there, I thought it was a communist or a socialist country, which was what we had learned in our textbooks. I still believe that Sweden is more socialist than China.
Q: But you’re not working with Swedish socialists, you’re working with Swedish capitalists. How are they doing in China?
A: We haven’t really seen a lot of renewable energy or clean energy yet. What we are seeing is mostly manufacturing companies. But it’s not low-end manufacturing; it’s more high-end value-added goods. There are also more and more niche companies with few employees but a lot of know-how and technology trying to do business here. I also see a lot of young Swedish entrepreneurs, university graduates even. They have lots of good ideas, and they want to try their luck in China.
Q: Have you worked with any Chinese firms investing in Sweden?
A: Yes. We have received a lot of inquiries from Chinese companies about investing there. Most of them are small, private firms looking for opportunities. Some companies are trying to get around EU barriers. For example, we recently got an inquiry from a Chinese steel company because the EU is doubling taxes on imported steel products. Others already have European customers, and they simply want to be closer to the market. And then there are some Chinese companies that believe having an overseas subsidiary would improve their image. Finally, you also have some small, family-owned companies that are looking for better opportunities for their children in terms of letting them study in Sweden or work there.
Q: How do these Chinese firms get on out there?
A: From what we have seen, some of them are doing well, but most of them aren’t.