Lobbying is still a tricky affair for many foreign companies trying to make their way in China. In China one often does not hear about laws until they have already been enacted. Even knowing whom to lobby is hard.

Building up the contacts and influence to bring about change takes time. You don't start lobbying officials the first time you meet them or you will just run into a brick wall. It is expected that you get to know the officials and their families, have dinner at eachother's homes and remember their birthdays. Many Western firms ban such contacts because doing personal favours for officials is a 'slippery slope' they say.

Contributing to an educational foundation or flood relief wins bonus points. Most ministries have reserach centres running for profit. Hiring their researchers (they earn a meager living of $ 500 to $ 600 a month) can make it easier to get a meeting with officials. Unlike in the west, China's top think tanks are all government-owned. Researchers at the Development and Research Centre of the State Council, China's cabinet, for example, are often invited to draft legislation or make proposals on policy revision. There are scholars who have been immersed in agiven industry for decades and because of their knowledge they are able to have legislation processed in a way, as they expect. Top officials like ministers or directors general, however, often know little about the industry they take charge of, as they get their job not because they are expert of the sector, but because of an arbitrary decision by the Communist Organization Department.

In a country, where one man-rule still prevails, lobbyists must make sure their message is passed on to the big boss. This is not an easy job. So usually companies hire a local guanxi broker, a well-connected individual who can persuade the top official to take one hour off his schedule and meet the clients. The Chinese lobbyist could be the grandson of a retired politburo member, or an editor at People's Daily, the communist party's newspaper. The problem, however, is that these locals tend to exaggerate their connections and it may be waste of money.

Protocol is important. A lobbyist will have a perceived rank when dealing with the government, equivalent to the level of the official he speaks to. Most European lobbyists are considered senior enough to meet a deputy minister. A minister would probably be expected to see a chief executive. Such meetings, when they do happen usually take place after months of informal negotiations between lower-level officials and lobbyists. By the time the formal meeting takes place, it is expected to be a choreographed event. The worst thing that can happen in a meeting with a senior official is to have topics come up that weren't predetermined.

Last but not least companies in Beijing also use the revolving door. Chinese companies, however, also devote plenty of staff, time and money to lobbying efforts of their own these days, often on the same issues as western companies.



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