By Vidhan Rana

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to China for Shape China, a meet-up of young global change makers who are part of Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. This was my first visit to China. I’d like to share my observations that I encountered through the sessions I attended at Shape China, conversations I had with fellow Shapers, and my travels to two cities in China that I had not really heard much about before.

China wants to showcase itself: It was obvious how China really wants to show the world how great their country is and how misunderstood it is. Perhaps because the conference was a precursor to Summer Davos, the themes at the sessions centered mainly on how the West misunderstands China and why the country is set to dominate the 21st century. Even during private conversations with Shapers from China, it became evident how frustrated they were with how their country is portrayed in Western media. Therefore, the best way to understand China is to visit the country and see for yourself what the country is all about.

China’s focus on infrastructure development: Everywhere you look in China, you see new roads, new buildings, new bridges, new airports, and continuous development. Dalian, with a population of 6.6 million, serves as the financial and logistics center for Northeast China. The port is being expanded, and new boardwalks are being built. Basically, you see construction happening everywhere you look. The city is fast becoming a top destination for international conferences. The city puts any major western financial center to shame with its new skyscrapers, wonderfully decorated public spaces, and night lighting. China is not only doing infrastructure investment in the country but is expanding its reach to countries all around the world. Under its One Belt, One Road initiative, the Chinese government is planning to invest over $40 billion to create transportation infrastructure to link China to Central Asia, Western Asia, the Middle East, and Europe along the ancient silk route. China appears to be focusing on creating infrastructure to boost trade to aid in its economic growth.

Domestic tourism is huge in China: Very few in China speak English. Even in major international hotel chains, the staff there have a minimal grasp of English. Why? Just walk around and you will see very few foreign tourists. Most travelers are domestic. One benefit of the country’s huge population is that domestic tourism in itself can sustain the industry in China.

China is looking for a new identity: After Deng Xiaoping began economic reforms in the late 1970s, China has adopted a fairly capitalist model of economic development with a strong focus on increasing exports (also known as socialist market economy). If you walk around the city centers of China, you will notice how consumerism has taken hold in China much like the West. To a certain extent, the kind of development China witnessed in the last three decades mirrored that of the West. Now, China has pretty much caught up to the West and is now looking to plot its own course of development. It wants to merge its eastern, Confucian way of thinking and living into the way the country progresses in the 21st century.

There is no doubt China is going to be a key player in global geopolitics because of its rising economic influence. China is also bringing a new way of approaching foreign policy which is starkly different than the one practiced by Western powers. While its rising influence around the globe is seen as a threat by many Western democracies, these same countries are now so dependent on China, economically making chances of major conflict minimal. Overall, China is a country you should travel to and learn more about. In the 21st century, doing business on a global level will be challenging without having a good understanding of its history, its culture, and its business practices.