Exclusive interview with Aaron Yang, vice president of the Zhejiang(s) Entrepreneurs Association.
BEIJING, Sept. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Over the past decade, the initiative has attracted active participation and extensive support from the countries along the routes, which would have been impossible without the important bridge and link role played by overseas Chinese in the host countries.
The Zhejiang(s) Entrepreneurs Association (ZJEA) is a non-profit civil society organization founded by Zhejiang entrepreneurs of different age groups in Singapore in February 2013. So far, the association has recruited more than 300 members from all walks of life. Its purpose is to provide services to Zhejiang entrepreneurs in Singapore and Zhejiang and promote economic and cultural exchanges between Singapore and Zhejiang.
Aaron Yang was born in Shanghai in 1983. He migrated to Singapore when he was 18 years old and became a naturalized Singaporean citizen. This new-generation immigrant founded Destiny Group and now serves as vice president of ZJEA. In September 2017, he won the “Belt and Road ASEAN Youth Leaders Award” at the China International Fair for Investment & Trade (CIFIT) held at Xiamen International Conference & Exhibition Center.
What do new immigrants think about China–Singapore relations? What role can overseas Chinese youth play in Belt and Road cooperation? On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the BRI, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Aaron Yang.
China Report ASEAN: At the 2017 CIFIT, you won the “Belt and Road ASEAN Youth Leaders Award.” As a Belt and Road ASEAN youth leader, what role do you think overseas Chinese youth can play in Belt and Road cooperation?
Aaron Yang: I’m engaged in the business of overseas education. In recent years, increasing numbers of Chinese students have come to Singapore to study. To meet market demand, we have to keep pace with the times. We adopted a social media strategy to turn public domain traffic into private domain traffic. This method is not unfamiliar to Chinese people. The younger generation of overseas Chinese here visit Chinese social media platforms every day including WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu. They also get information from local media such as Zaobao. If China and Singapore are building a comprehensive, high- quality, future-oriented partnership, it is important for us to adopt a communication strategy suitable for the Chinese market to connect and adapt to the market development logic of the two countries.
In Belt and Road cooperation, overseas Chinese youth can play a connecting role with their comparative advantages such as having a good knowledge of both the Chinese market and the policies of Singapore.
China Report ASEAN: As vice president of ZJEA, what role do you think the organization can play in bilateral exchanges?
Yang: Before the pandemic, many Zhejiang entrepreneurs from China and ASEAN countries would attend the annual meeting of ZJEA every year. Zhejiang entrepreneurs based in ASEAN countries maintain close contact with each other. Singapore is located at the heart of Southeast Asia. The ZJEA enjoys playing the role of a node connecting Zhejiang entrepreneurs in China and those in ASEAN countries.
Since the adjustment of pandemic response policies, directors and members of ZJEA have been able to travel to China to visit their relatives and friends and interact with Chinese entrepreneurs. We seize this opportunity to bring information on Singapore’s investment policies, market direction, and the needs of entrepreneurs back to China while helping Singaporean companies seeking to invest in China build connections with potential partners. The relations between the Zhejiang entrepreneurs in China and Singapore have become even tighter. Last April, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited China, which marked the beginning of a new stage of China– Singapore relations. Overseas Chinese in Singapore were very pleased with the results of this visit. We’re eyeing the huge potential for the Chinese market to develop further. Entrepreneurs in both countries benefit greatly from the close relations and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.
China Report ASEAN: From your personal experience, what is the significance of the BRI for bilateral exchanges between China and Singapore?
Yang: The BRI was inspired by the ancient Silk Road. For Singaporean enterprises, international vision is an indispensable asset. It’s very easy for those confined to the domestic market of Singapore to reach a “ceiling.” The BRI has fostered opportunities for Singaporean companies to explore a broader market in China as well as in other countries along the routes.
Zhejiang is a major industrial province of China. Most of the members of our association used to be engaged in traditional industries. However, at the association’s latest meeting with new members, I realized that many new immigrants are engaged in the finance industry, which makes sense considering Singapore’s ability to attract financial talent and position in the global financial system. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI. Over the years, China and Singapore have built diversified cross-border financing channels with interconnectivity projects, fostered a convenient new land- sea trade corridor, explored new areas of cooperation, and promoted the efficient regional connectivity of people, logistics, capital, and information. These developments show that China and Singapore have made breakthroughs in various fields with bilateral connectivity projects, which is injecting new impetus to the BRI.
China Report ASEAN: The Destiny Group operates ZHIXUANSG, Singapore’s top brand for international education. In recent years, more and more Chinese students have been choosing to study in Singapore. What’s your take on this trend?
Yang: I’ve been in the overseas education business for 15 years. Over the years, I’ve noticed some of the changes taking place.
First, the age span of international students has expanded. We now serve from three-year-old kids to 40-year- old EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) students, including the parents of some students who have studied and settled in Singapore. This aligns with the “Learn for Life” initiative launched by the Singaporean government. For new immigrants, enrolling in a school is a shortcut to integrating with local society.
Secondly, since the pandemic, the volume of students coming to Singapore has seen exponential growth, including students from families that were previously more interested in European and American countries than Asian countries like Singapore. Although it’s small in size, Singapore has strength in finance education, international trade, hotel management, music and art, and other fields while demonstrating excellent performance in many emerging industries. As a hub connecting the East and the West, Singapore leads the world in education.
Thirdly, a decade ago, many Chinese students were opting to settle in Singapore because the salaries and entrepreneurial environment were better than in China. However, since 2013, when China began to grow rapidly and create more job opportunities, many graduates have chosen to return to China and integrate their projects with domestic industries for further development. Overseas education in Singapore is like a window through which one can observe the deepening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.
China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI. What are your feelings about the initiative?
Yang: Implementation of the BRI not only involves trade statistics and economic development, but also greater investment in cultural exchange. Singapore and China can communicate in the same language. However, differences in the living environment and ways of thinking push Chinese people to often deploy “implied meaning” in their speech, while overseas Chinese in Singapore tend to speak more straightforwardly. This sometimes results in communication difficulties. From a long-term perspective, closer people-to- people ties is of paramount importance for cooperation with the Belt and Road countries. With closer people- to-people ties, communication between countries will be more convenient and create a more favorable environment for Belt and Road cooperation.
SOURCE China Report ASEAN