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Adventure advocate

By Xu Lin | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-07 09:52

Adventure advocate

Gilbert van Kerckhove received the 2005 Friendship Award for bridging between the Chinese administration and foreign businesses for the Beijing Olympic Games. Kuang Linhua / China Daily

A Belgian adventurer came to China because he first heard about the country from a Chinese tugboat worker in Nigeria, and he has come a long way since, as Xu Lin finds out.

Tall and thin, Gilbert van Kerckhove is also very talkative, a fact he readily admits. "I have a big mouth and a bit of courage," says the 64-year-old from Ghent, Belgium, grinning from ear to ear.

Thanks to that particular combination of qualities, van Kerckhove, a multi-award winner for his strategic contributions in bridging China and European countries in terms of urban constructions, says he has survived many adventures in numerous countries including Brazil and Nigeria before he came to China.

He made his first visit to China in 1980 out of his adventurous nature, but he did not expect to be "stuck in Beijing" so many decades later. It is a city he now considers home.

It was a casual conversation with a Chinese tugboat mechanic in his hotel in Nigeria in 1979 that sparked his interest in the country. So in 1980, when van Kerckhove, armed with a master's degree in electronic engineering, received an assignment to China, he took it without hesitation.

"China was quite mysterious to Westerners at that time, and all my families and friends were against my decision and said I must be crazy. But I like to embrace challenges and took the job," he says.

He was in Beijing to open the Chinese office for the Belgian company ACEC, an electrical engineering corporation which operated the Pingdingshan power station in Henan province.

The project was financed by a soft loan from the Belgian government, the first one granted to China.

The experience had allowed him to see his potential as a "matchmaker" between foreign investors and Chinese projects. In the following decades, he was involved in various large-scale construction projects including the building of Shanghai's Subway Line 3.

Exploiting his decades of experience in China, in 1999, he and his wife set up Beijing Global Strategy Consulting Co Ltd, which offers strategic guidance, investment and development advice to foreign and Chinese entities.

Adventure advocate

Adventure advocate

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