It is often forgotten that relationships between different countries exist on at least 3 levels:

Level 1 – Government to Government
This usually receives the most attention, at least from the media, but it should be remembered that Governments and leaders come and go, and attitudes, policies and personalities change faster than it might appear from the relentless 24/7 news cycle.

For example, during a visit to Australia in late 2014, a country which is now experiencing a very difficult relationship with China, President Xi Jinping made a speech to both Houses of Parliament prior to witnessing the signing of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, saying that Australia-China relations will “withstand rain and storm, and will be as strong and everlasting as the majestic Uluru rock in Central Australia and the Great Wall in northern China”. Just 7 years later, the relationship appears to have hit rock bottom and nobody will even speak to eachother. Who knows where it will be in another 7 years?!

Level 2 – Business to Business
Whilst it usually helps if Government and diplomatic relations are warm, friendly and encouraging, there is no reason why trade, investment and business relations shouldn’t flourish independently, and it often does. Driven by a different set of priorities (i.e. shareholder returns, new export markets, increasing profitability, executive bonuses etc.), business leaders tend to make their own decisions about which countries they trade with and how they manage the local relationships. Governments have often found it frustrating that they actually have very little influence on transactions between buyers and sellers, and how business gets done.

Using the deteriorating Australia-China relationship as an example, I recently came across two Australian companies who are experiencing success in China despite the politics: How AH Beard sells $70,000 mattresses in China and v2food readies for China push.

Level 3 – People to People
Whilst it’s convenient for the world to be carved up into countries, territories and regions, creating tensions around sovereignty, borders and ideology, the people of the world tend to follow their individual minds, hearts and loyalties when faced with natural disasters or crazy Government decisions. The recent events in Afghanistan remind us that we take care of our families and loved ones first before worrying about anything else.

Of the 50 million people of Chinese origin who live outside China, it is estimated that 30 million live in South East Asia, especially in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are over 1 million living in Australia, making Mandarin the most widely spoken language after English. Despite fears about China’s system of Government and ideology, Chinese families have enriched many societies around the world with their entrepreneurial spirit, traditional culture and tasty food.

Whilst it rarely makes the media headlines, it’s the people-to-people relationships that matter most, and its individuals, families and communities who decide where they live, who they like, who they make friends with and how they react to events around them. Governments have a role, and like to interfere, but they have a lot less influence than they might think.

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