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Sweden has innovation built in
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Every consul general is passionate about their home country, it's their job to be.

However, Lars Andreasson, consul general of Sweden in Shanghai, speaks about his respective motherland with such energy and enthusiasm that it almost makes you wish you were Swedish.

"Sweden is a country of innovation," Andreasson declares.

"It is a big country, similar in size to that of France or Spain however with a population of only nine million. So we had to be creative and innovative to survive."

Taking about his hometown he continues: "Stockholm is the number one trendsetting city in Europe; it is where the new trendsetting tourists go on holiday. Tourists are not the same as they were years ago; they want more than just a beach holiday or to visit museums, they want to see something unique. Stockholm, like Shanghai can offer tourists this, both places give the feeling that something is happening."

Having grown up in Stockholm and later studied law there, he continues: "I was grabbed by the foreign ministry so I never got to practice law unfortunately. Since then, I have spent 15 years in or with Southeast Asia and I have also worked twice in New York."

Explaining how he came to leave his native country for his first assignment, the consul general says: "I was asked by someone from personnel when we were walking on the street. He was on the other side of the road and shouted over to me: 'Do you want to go to East Berlin or Singapore?' And that is how it started."

Instantly choosing Singapore he explains: "It was during the period when properties were being nationalized in East Germany and the job was to get compensation for those families. You can imagine what that would have been like."

From that point on Andreasson has never regretted his decision.

"Even from early on I could see the dynamic societies in Southeast Asia."

Now, having lived in Shanghai for the past four years representing his country, he continues: "When I took this position it was my first time to visit China. It was very similar to Singapore in the early 1980s and Thailand in the mid 1990s. But there was one big difference, everything here was 500 times bigger."

"The main thing I have worked on since being here is to put Sweden on the map," he says.

"Sweden previously was not known in Shanghai, other than for a table tennis player called Jan-Ove Waldner who beat four generations of Chinese players."

However, Chinese people unknowingly have always been familiar with Swedish inventions such as the seatbelt, computer mouse, tetra packs (that keep liquids such as milk fresh), clothing zippers and even Skype. "They recognized these products but just did not realize that they were Swedish."

The innovation of the Swedish is demonstrated in these everyday inventions and comes down to education he continues.

"For the last 100 years we have been forced to be creative. It starts in kindergarten, maybe even earlier, when you start to build things. Even from primary school children they are dismantling and rebuilding things such as their bicycles, I was even dismantling engines and putting them back together in my teen years. In Sweden, you are encouraged to ask the teacher 'why?' To question and discuss."

This incentive from early on is what has enabled Sweden to be competitive and stay at the forefront.

"Since I have been in Shanghai I have arranged eight events in different cities each called 'Sweden - an Innovative Country' with the help of Swedish universities and industries."

However the most prestigious event of the Sino-Swedish calendar was the arrival of the "Gotheborg" ship last autumn.

"Sweden built an exact replica of a 1750's trade ship and sailed it to China to celebrate 250 years of friendly relations between our countries. It was a success we could never foresee," Andreasson explains.

CCTV was on board during the nine month voyage, making 12 programs that have aired in China several times.

"Now if you ask most taxi drivers here, they will know about the Swedish Gotheborg ship."

Describing the ships success he continues: "As we say in Sweden, 'the crown of everything' was when the ship came back home in June this year. When she sailed into Swedish waters (to Goteborg, the sister city of Shanghai) she had Chinese President Hu Jintao and the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf steering the ship into port. It was called the Swedish China friendship project."

Now, awaiting Sweden's next major event, the consul general says: "This will be today when 14 of the big Swedish universities bring 60 professors to explore the possibility for student exchange and research projects."

China is also expecting a visit from Lena Hjelm-Wallen Sweden's Deputy Prime Minister.

"She will arrive in late October or early November and plans to visit Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, capital of neighboring Jiangsu Province, and Wuxi also in Jiangsu Province. Topics to be discussed are how we can deepen exchange and heighten technology and during her visit she will open a Sino-Swedish institute in Shanghai on food safety, nutrition and health."

Now in Shanghai, people have a better understanding of Sweden, Andreasson says.

"It's not just companies like Erickson, Ikea and Volvo, now companies are flooding here from bed shops, cosmetics, crystals and even three H&M stores."

The Swedish community has grown from about 300 three years ago to over 1,000 now.

"It is probably the biggest Swedish community in Asia and the number of Swedish companies has rocketed. Sometimes in one week I can cut four ribbons when new companies open up."

Planning to stay in Shanghai for just one more year before moving back to Stockholm, the consul general concludes: "I have very much enjoyed my time here, the city has developed and so much has happened in such a short time."

(Shanghai Daily October 24, 2007)

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