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Helping to contribute to a better life

By Zhong Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-23 11:13
An attendee wears a virtual reality headset to view an oncology tutorial at the Bayer AG offices in Berlin, Germany, on Dec 1, 2017.[Photo/Agencies]

Editor's Note: This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up. China Daily interviewed top executives of well-known multinational companies for their views on the country's socioeconomic development.

Nation crucial for Bayer in terms of sales, innovation, partnerships, cooperation and talent development

Please use three words to describe China's changes in the past 40 years.

Unprecedented, inspiring and world-changing.

What are the biggest achievements in China since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy 40 years ago?

Since opening up 40 years ago, China has made big achievements on many fronts. The most striking is the economic development of China. In the last 40 years, China has transformed itself from a society and economy that lacked a great deal of infrastructure and development to being the second-largest economy in the world, at a dazzling speed and scale. In doing so, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and set itself well on the path to reaching its "centenary goal" of establishing a moderately prosperous, harmonious and balanced society in China by 2020.

This transformation has been powered by the reform and opening-up policy, which has fueled China's growth in the past four decades. A crucial feature of this transformation is China's focus on its longterm vision and goal while demonstrating a pragmatic ability to adjust its transformation process to adapt to changing needs and conditions.

More recently, China is emphasizing higher quality of economic growth-one that is focused on innovation and sustainability, including poverty alleviation and environmental topics. This will help to ensure that as many Chinese people as possible can participate in the benefits of development and share in the big achievements of China.

What's the biggest challenge China faces today and how can the country overcome it?

China is a very complex country, with a huge population and big differences within one country in terms of geography, economic development, culture, prosperity, societal needs and speed of change. I believe the biggest challenge that China faces today is to find the best way to address the multitude of priorities and considerations it faces, as it tries to balance the need to maintain growth and social stability... while undertaking reforms that can potentially be disruptive.

To maintain a level of economic growth that is needed to ensure opportunities for the Chinese people, the Chinese government has already indicated that it will focus on different growth drivers that can deliver higher quality and more sustainable growth, which will involve structural reforms and the rebalancing of the Chinese economy.

Many key initiatives such as "Modernizing Agriculture", "Healthy China 2030", "Made in China 2025", "the 13th Five-Year Plan" and "Internet Plus" have been launched by the Chinese government to support the supply-side structural reform, digitalization and innovation needed to enable China to realize the transformation to quality growth.

How has your company benefited from the country's reform and opening-up policy?

Bayer started trading with China over 130 years ago and established the first Bayer company in China over 100 years ago. In our long history with China, we have been steadfast in our commitment to participate in the Chinese market so that the Chinese people can have access to our innovative products and we can help to contribute to a better life in China.

Today, China is the third biggest market for Bayer in the world. China has been a crucial market for our global business strategy, and an important driver for growth for Bayer, not only in terms of sales but also in terms of innovation, partnerships, collaborations, talent development and attracting and retaining excellent employees.

We currently have a wonderful organization of around 10,000 colleagues who are passionate about our mission, "Science for a Better Life"-namely, innovating in science and technology to deliver solutions that contribute to a better life for all. This would not have been possible without the reform and opening-up policy that China has implemented for the last 40 years.

How do you view China's role in the world today?

China has a very significant role in the world today. It is the second largest economy in the world, and developments and issues in China have a huge impact on the global stage in many aspects, including trade, the environment and social development. For most companies, China is almost impossible to ignore, not only as a huge and important market but also as a key player in the global supply chain and the availability of resources and talent.

With China's greater economic power also comes greater responsibilities in the realm of global politics, social issues and development. We believe that China takes these greater responsibilities seriously and is committed to promoting harmonious and sustainable global development in collaboration with other countries in the world. China has demonstrated its willingness to do this through a number of initiatives including the Belt and Road Initiative, which has the aim of building a trade and infrastructure network to connect Asia with Europe and Africa along various ancient trade routes over land and sea.

Once established, the Belt and Road Initiative should strengthen connectivity amongst the countries along the "Belt and Road" routes, facilitate travel and trade, and thereby enhance trade, investment, economic growth as well as strengthen cultural and social ties and understanding along these routes.

Could China's experiences and practices be used to solve global problems?

China's experiences and practices can, undoubtedly, contribute to finding solutions for global problems. While China's experience and practices are generally focused on addressing China's needs and issues, many global topics around the world share similar characteristics and the approaches that China has taken to tackle such topics (eg, the environment, poverty alleviation, inclusion and economic growth, etc) can also benefit people around the world facing similar situations.

Where global problems are different from China's situation, China's experiences and practices, especially China's pragmatic and iterative approach to innovation, can still benefit those who are seeking new inspiration and a different perspective to address a persistent issue. In addition, the increasing willingness of China to take on responsibilities for addressing global issues means that, in addition to experiences and practices, China can also provide valuable resources such as funding, talent and leadership.

Innovation in China is being rejuvenated. The plans of the Chinese government to transform China into a global leader in science and technology through funding research and development, as well as providing infrastructure support and incentivizing technology development, will only enhance China's ability to contribute to solutions for global problems.

What measures are needed if China wants to deepen reforms?

I expect that China will implement its 13th Five-Year Plan and carry out its commitment to create a more innovative, open, collaborative, green and inclusive society. China has already indicated the areas in which it will focus its reform efforts, including supply-side structural reforms (including in agriculture), reducing inventory, addressing overcapacity, deleveraging debt, alleviating poverty and addressing other pressing issues.

Key issues include the speed and scope at which such reforms can be implemented, and the maintenance of quality growth and social stability while carrying out such important reforms. Another key issue that is of great interest to Bayer is the role of innovation in the reform agenda for China.

Has competition intensified between your company and Chinese companies?

The rise of Chinese companies is well-described as "meteoric", especially in the past two decades. We believe that this is an excellent development and we are excited to see the innovations and new offerings that Chinese companies are bringing to the market as this means a bigger range of better choices and solutions for the Chinese people and, increasingly, for the world.

The Chinese market is so large that succeeding in China gives Chinese companies a massive scale and the opportunity to test a range of customer-driven innovations. Such innovations and scale also give Chinese companies a great platform for going global.

With regard to the intensity of competition, China has been a fiercely competitive market for many years. We are proud that Bayer has been very successful amidst such tough competition for so many years.

We believe our success is due to our focus on the needs of Chinese patients, farmers and consumers, our ability to deliver innovative, high-quality and highly relevant products and solutions in crucial and strategic areas such as healthcare and agriculture, and our commitment to contribute to the development of China, in line with the direction set by the Chinese government.

What is the most unforgettable experience you have had in China?

It is very difficult to choose a single "most unforgettable" experience in China for me. I have been living and working in China now for around 25 years, and the whole experience has been unforgettable. This has been made more so because of my Chinese heritage, my personal journey of discovery of culture and "roots" as an overseas Chinese, and the friends that I have made.

Over this period, I have experienced, first-hand, the incredible development of China, and I am delighted to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime story. In addition, during this period, Bayer's amazing development in China also unfolded, and I am very proud to have been a part of this, and to contribute to it.

Apart from economic development, what progress in other realms have you witnessed in China in the past 40 years?

China's openness to fresh ideas and its willingness to adopt them as well as adapt them to local tastes and conditions is very impressive. This enables a very fast development of a diverse range of ideas, not only in the realm of business but in the areas of art, food, entertainment, culture, academia, sport, leisure, indeed in almost all aspects of society. This, in turn, allows the Chinese people to demonstrate their innovative capabilities as well as their character, spirit and heart.

One area where we see exciting changes in recent years is in the proliferation of startups and startup culture. The startup space encourages open innovation, informal exchanges and collaboration across diverse skills and backgrounds.

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