Business unites old enemies

February 23, 2001

Mark Miester

Three years ago, when the Freeman School first brought managers from the People's Republic of China into its Taiwan Executive MBA program, the two groups eyed each other with a tempered mixture of curiosity and suspicion. What a difference three years makes.

"I think in the future, many traditional and high-tech companies will be moving to China from Taiwan," says Jackson Hsieh, president of textiles exporter Amin International Corp. in Taipei, Taiwan, and a member of the Asia Executive MBA program, "so this is a good chance for us to get together."

Hsieh's statement, typical of comments by both Taiwanese and Chinese in the program, reflects the changing relationship between Taiwan and the mainland as both prepare for China's entry into the World Trade Organization this year. Chinese and Taiwanese executives and managers were on campus last month for a two-week residency at the Freeman School, part of the 19-month program.

"Three years ago, it was almost like two enemy camps," says Freeman School professor of accounting Jevons Lee, who first conceived of bringing the government officials from Shanghai, China, together with Taiwanese executives in a classroom setting. "Now, they're looking forward to meeting each other so much it's incredible."

Separated by the Strait of Taiwan, Chinese government officials and their Taiwanese counterparts have remained at odds for 50 years. Historically, China has considered Taiwan to be the country's 23rd province, while Taiwan views itself as an independent republic.

The ideological gap, though, appears to be narrowing, and the agent of that unification is trade. With China's impending admission to the World Trade Organization this year, executives in both Taiwan and China are positioning themselves to take advantage of new markets, and it's in classrooms at Tulane that the foundation of trade relationships are being built.

"This is the only program in the world to bring leaders in China to study together with Taiwanese leaders," says Lee. "This relationship will be extremely valuable a few years from now."

Last month, 61 Taiwanese managers and 23 Chinese managers and government officials attended classes together at the Freeman School.

"If I can exchange experience with my classmates, my professors and also extend my networking, this program can really benefit me," says Catherine Tseng, senior vice president for personal investment banking with Credit Suisse Group in Taiwan.

Wei Zhou, director of urban development for the Shanghai Municipal Government's Municipal Research Office, says the interaction between the two groups is an important facet of the program.

"I think my favorite experience has been to communicate with the other guys, especially people from Taiwan, who can talk about the same topics but with different perspectives."

Tracey Yeh, vice president of marketing with ABN-AMRO Bank in Taipei, echoes Zhou's comment. "It's really helpful when the Chinese share their points of view, so we understand where they're coming from," she says.

"If I have to move to Shanghai to set up a branch office, I can understand how they would look at matters and let them understand our approach so that we can meet each other half way. "Before, China and Taiwan didn't talk to each other and looked down upon each other," she adds. "But now, here in class, we have been really friendly and learned so much from each other."

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