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Foreigners in China: Doing Business in Qinghai
Though an American, Randsl Ruble speaks Chinese fluently. He now runs his enterprise, Asia Development Management Group (ADMG), in Xining, capital city of Qinghai Province in northwest China. Whenever meeting Americans in China or new friends on his business or vacation trips around the world, he always tells them to go to Qinghai.

Ruble was born in Arkansas State in 1962. When he was eight, he read The Travels of Marco Polo, which led to his intense interest in China. His older brothers and sisters either studied or worked in Europe, but he always wanted to go to China. To realize his dream, he even learned Chinese.

In 1987, Ruble came to China. Since then he has traveled a great deal, and worked in many places. He gave himself a Chinese name: Ren Zheyi. In 1990, while working in Qingdao, Shandong Province, he met Fiona from Scotland. They were married in 1995, and now have four children; two were born in China, in Tianjin and Xining respectively. Fiona also has a Chinese name, Dai Mingxian, and she speaks Chinese even better than her husband. She previously worked as an English teacher in a Chinese school.

Ruble thinks Chinese characters are wonderful, and studying them makes people smarter. He has encouraged his children to learn to write Chinese characters from an early age, including practicing calligraphy with a writing brush. He sent them to a local kindergarten. Later they will study in Chinese schools. Ruble said the level of China's elementary education is very high.

When he first arrived in China, Ruble worked as an investment consultant for various companies, but he always wanted to start his own business. In 1998, he set up an office in Xining. Two years later, he founded his own company after intense market research. At first, he concentrated on exporting carpets and yak sweaters to the United States and Europe, which he asked local enterprises to make according to clients' orders. Now as his business grows, Ruble wants to have his own factory. Workshop construction is underway and is expected to be completed at the end of this year. He plans to hire more than 100 local workers.

Ruble believes no business could succeed without knowing the market, and he is full of confidence in his business' future. He feels that he has made the right decision to select Qinghai, which has advantages in wool manufacturing and can therefore guarantee a supply of raw materials at low cost. In addition, China's western development strategy gives him a new edge.

Ruble said that great changes have taken place in Qinghai since the western development strategy was implemented. For instance, since most sections of the Xining-Lanzhou-Tianjin Expressway have been completed and open to traffic, it takes only two or three days for containers to arrive at the port in Tianjin, compared with more than 10 days in the past.

Previously, goods were occasionally lost or severely damaged during shipping. Such things seldom happen now. By the end of this year, Customs clearing will be available in Xining, offering Ruble greater convenience. Internet connections were rare a couple of years ago, let alone broadband access. Now, it's easy to communicate with the outside world through a broadband network. People in Qinghai can work at home, just as many Americans do.

Ruble enjoys the high efficiency of the local government, which have undergone enormous changes in their thinking and working mode since the beginning of western development. All sectors of the government have reached a consensus on providing quality service in all respects to foreign investors. As he has been in China for a while, Ruble knows how important it is to rub shoulders with local officials. He has very good relations with officials from the Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation of Qinghai Province, but he never takes advantage of this. His assistant always goes there on his behalf, and things always go smoothly.

Ruble said he had a good impression of local government sectors. The officials are younger than before, and most importantly, they have a very good understanding of the country's western development strategy.

Generally speaking, most foreign companies investing in China first choose places where they can make the most profit. Previously, they seldom took the western area into consideration due to its low economic development and educational level, coupled with its poor transport facilities and infrastructure. Now, all this has changed. It is the right time to go west.

Ruble is mobilizing his American friends and other foreign business people to seek business opportunities in the west. He is also ready to help Chinese enterprises there find appropriate foreign partners for cooperation, with his own company serving as a bridge.

"Despite the great changes here, undeniably, there are still problems," said Ruble. "The two biggest are the city image and brain drain."

Compared with some larger cities that opened up much earlier, cities in Qinghai are less competitive. People know little about Qinghai except for some negative stereotypes, including economic backwardness. Until such preconceived notions are dispelled, one cannot persuade foreign business people to invest there. Wherever they go, foreign investors always first fully investigate and assess the area, looking at such things as transportation fees, raw material costs and other expenses. On one hand, Qinghai must speed up its infrastructure construction; on the other hand, it must acquaint foreigners with the changes and let them know more about it.

Regarding the brain drain issue, Qinghai has invested heavily in fostering talent, but unfortunately they tend to leave for Beijing, Shanghai or other economically developed large cities once they think they are capable of competing there.

Ruble said he believes local governments are trying to solve these problems. With a better infrastructure, higher standard of living, higher salaries and more foreign career development opportunities, the current situation will improve.

He has met some difficulties during his years here, but thinks he might encounter similar situations even in the United States. "It's quite normal, for the road will never be smooth and unpleasant things happen everywhere," he said.

Though an ambitious businessman, Ruble is also devoted to his family. His neighbors said the American is a good husband and father.

Everyone who has been to Xining knows the city lags far behind Beijing and Shanghai in many ways. For example, there are not many nightclubs. Ruble said, "That's for young people. I am 40 years old now. After a day's work, I just want to stay with my family, have a chat with my wife, play with the kids, or just do some reading."

As to the living environment, Ruble has his own opinions. He said he and his wife both prefer living close to nature rather than in big cities. Xining is an ideal place, a little like his hometown in Arkansas. On weekends, he often drives to the suburbs with his family to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and greenery.

(Beijing Review November21, 2002)

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