Barry Li’s Q&A session at the Australia-China E-commerce Forum

Event background

This forum, jointly run by Macquarie University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), aims to provide a platform for industry practitioners, and Australian and Chinese academic scholars, and to demonstrate thought leadership through the mutual exchange of innovative ideas and practical recommendations for the future of trade between China and Australia.

The forum will examine contemporary issues related to international trade and e-commerce in view of the impact of technology and global geopolitical developments. A series of topics will be covered, including: environment finance and professional services in free-trade areas, international business relations between Australia and China, blockchain technology, accounting and finance for cross-border e-commerce, international logistics and supply chain management, and other interdisciplinary themes.

Questions for panel 2 (Micro) for Jonathan Wang (Alibaba) and Barry Li (Author)
1. In analysing the use of e-commerce platforms for cross-border purchase, 84% of consumers used domestic e-commerce platform. Judging from the massive amount of tourists, and also the development of in-house platforms, how do you see the trend of C2C, or Daigou, in cross-border e-commerce? Will it affect the more traditional B2C purchases? (both)

Barry Li: first, I found it is fascinating that we are discussing “e-commerce” here today. When I first heard this concept, it was in 2000 when I started university. Back then, e-commerce was a brand new concept. Back then, it meant that you should email people about your commerce, not sending fax or writing letters. It has evolved incredibly over the past 18 years. So I believe today, we should stop using the concept “e-commerce”, just because everyone is using email and much more. It’s just commerce. Commerce can’t exist today without technology. New technologies around commerce, e.g. mobile payment are now available even in remote villages in China, thanks to innovative business – like Alibaba. Now, back to the question – would C2C affect B2C? Of course, it will. It already did. These are ancient terms as well, big ten years ago. Today we mostly talk about P2P (peer-to-peer) and O2O (online-to-offline). A translation for this question would be: why are business increasingly impacted/interrupted by individuals? (like Daigou) The answer is, innovative companies like Alibaba has changed the game. They have provided individuals (including Daigous) amazing infrastructures and tools to enable/empower then to interrupt traditional business. These infrastructures include communication technologies (e.g. WEChat), transaction platforms (e.g. Taobao), payment systems (e.g. Alipay) and easy global logistics and fulfilment systems. Traditional B2Cs have two options. They can either ignore these new infrastructures and lose the competition, or they can get embrace this change and utilise these new infrastructure built by innovators, and continue their success.

2. We understand that the highest proportion of Products that online shoppers buy through Haitao are: Fashion (22%), beauty and cosmetics (20%), grocery (19%), sports and leisure products (18%). Why do you think this is the case and do you think Australia has a comparative advantage over these products? (Barry Li)

Barry Li: Sadly, I know nothing about fashion, nor beauty and cosmetics. I don’t have any figure, but I heard Japanese beauty and cosmetics products are more popular in China. I’m not familiar with sport and leisure products either, as this is my audit busy season I have pretty much no time for sports and leisure. I do believe Australia has excellent comparative advantage over some mineral resources and some agriculture products, but I don’t think the comparative advantage is a pre-requisite for transactions of goods. Sometimes, it is about choices and diversity. As China’s mid-class population grow, they want to try things from other countries, and they don’t even have to be better. They need to be exotic. Chinese people always prefer Chinese food, even for those who have lived overseas for decades. However, no one mind having burgers from time to time, because that it’s good to have a different flavour now and then.

3. Barry, in your book you impress us that Chinese consumers are changing Australia’s culture, not only in e-commerce. How is it so and would you like to comment on the behaviours of Chinese consumers that tend to be different from Australian or western consumers for e-commerce? What might be the next big thing for e-commerce?

Barry: That sounds like a false impression you got there “Chinese consumers are changing Australia’s culture”. I have never implied that in my book. It is tough to discuss Chinese consumer’s behaviour within a few minutes. It’s not one Chinese consumer, but 1.5 billion Chinese consumers and everyone behave differently according to their income/wealth/age/profession/location and a million other factors. You are asking what the next big thing for e-commerce is? This is the answer – big data. Before we had big data, we had to category consumers into a few very inaccurate categories to analyse their behaviour. But with today’s technology, especially the big data like Alibaba has collected, we can almost have a tailored experience for every consumer. Example, my login to Taobao shop would look completely different from my wife’s login. The first screen we see, and the recommended products would be based on our private data, which hopefully are secure, and not shared with other people for other purposes. However, it is not really the next big thing, it is happening today in China. In Australia, we have strict laws on how data are collected and used. So it will be the next big thing in Australia.

Does leadership have a nationality?

This is a speech delivered by Barry Li on the 20th of June 2018 at the China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre opening lunch.

Hello everyone. I’m invited by my colleague/friend Selena today to this lunch event, to talk about leadership and nationality. Today is also the opening day for Selena’s China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre. She also invited me to serve as the president of the club. I’m a very busy person, so I initially said no to both the president tile and the speech, but then she mentioned that she would buy me this lunch. I certainly wouldn’t say no to a free meal. So I’m here. And then she asked me for ideas for promotion of this event. To repay this free lunch, I offered to donate ten copies of my book to the China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre. That is about $300 market price. So overall I made a significant loss. That further proves the old saying – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Therefore, I highly encourage everyone to pay for their lunch today; even Selena offers otherwise.

Jokes aside, food is getting cold so let’s go straight into the topic. Does leadership have a nationality? My answer is simple. YES. That concludes my speech, thank you, everyone. Now let’s dig in.

OK, that’s another joke. I’m going to talk about the difference in leadership by nationality. I don’t think I have the qualification to speak about leadership and nationalities all around the world, but I’m happy to present my view on the difference between Australian leadership and Chinese leadership. I’m going to talk based on both my book and some of my observations that I decided not to include in my book. Because I don’t want my book to become a banned book in China. I still need to go back there from time to time for the real Chinese food.

The way I see the difference between Australian leadership and Chinese leadership is the number of choices the leader offers. Let me give you one example. This is the menu of this restaurant. There are quite a lot of options for $15 dish including drink. Good value for money. But more important than the good value for money is the diversity of dishes you can choose. You can select the butter chicken, which is relatively small portion by the way. You may not be happy with your choice when you see the actual dish, but you won’t blame anyone, because you chose it yourself. You were given the options to choose whatever you like. This has been the case in Australia for probably most of the past 100 years. But during some part of that same period in China, the only choice most people had, was either to take whatever food there is or not eat.

Now let’s move on to leadership in business because I never talk about politics. Some old-style Chinese business leaders they are used to offer one item on the menu for their followers – “Do this”. “Get this done asap”. This is the way they got used to, and they expect the young generation to follow. This is like offering only one dish on this menu and ask everyone to choose the same dish. This is unfortunately not going to work well in the 21st century, even in China.

So would an excellent Australian leader do today? Like my boss, they would go: “Barry we need to solve this problem. We used to do this, but can you think of some better options?” I was suddenly empowered with the ability to explore options! Then, of course, I would actively search and find a better way to do the same task. But the trick is, in most cases, there is still just this one only way the problem can be solved. But I was not directed to do it; instead, I explored options then “decide” to do it. In order words, I spend more time doing the same thing. Then I go to my boss and say “I think we should do this”. Then my boss can say: “Cool. Let’s do this then. I know you are busy, but the deadline is next Monday. Don’t stay late, feel free to do it anytime that suits you”. This is called flexible hours. I was given the option to work whenever suits me. Great isn’t it? The trick is, I’m not working any less, but I’m happy with the flexibility because I was given a choice to do it when the kids are asleep, or on the weekend. If I work in a petrol shop, I will get penalty rates. I’m not, but I’m still happy because I have the menu. Working on the weekend is MY choice.

Now I think you can all see the difference between the two types of leadership styles I mentioned. I’m not going to say which one is better. In many cases, not having too many choices is a good thing. When I go into a busy Westfield car park, I prefer to have this only perfect spot available just for me. When there are too many parking spots, I end up with thinking that I didn’t park at the best one. Stupid isn’t it? That was a reason that my 20s were a big failure. I spent too much time explore the options and end up not focusing enough. And that is why today, after five years, I’m still doing Audit.

In conclusion, one of the big difference between Australian and Chinese leadership style is the options the leader give to people. We all like the power to choose. But I can’t say a choice is better than no choice. Since we have all chose our dish today, let’s dish in with no complaint. And remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“What do the new Chinese believe?: Science and Superstition” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

A large part of Chinese superstitious beliefs is tied up in numerology – lucky numbers and unlucky numbers. I talked about it before in Rich Chinese ; crazy things are done and large amounts of money is spent to get the right numbers and avoid the bad ones. Barry Li, author of The New Chinese: How they are changing Australia recounts a story of a Sydney house that failed to achieve the same ludicrous selling price as other Sydney properties, all because it had the street number of 74 (it probably still sold for other 1million AUD though). With different tonal inflictions, the pronunciation of 74 can easily become ‘wife dies’, ‘angry to death’ or ‘die together’, so Chinese buyers steered clear. Continue reading

“What do the New Chinese believe?: The Monkey King” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

As I brought up the Monkey King in my previous post on religion in China I thought it would be reminisce of me if I didn’t expound further on this little guy. In some regards he’s a bit like Santa Claus: everyone is familiar with the image and the symbolism in some small way. A guy with a white beard in a red hat is easily synonymous with the term Christmas. But Santa didn’t appear out of nowhere. Like how facts and truths about Santa’s reindeers, elves and home address are a bit more quick to mind than the story of his origin as a monk, the history behind the Monkey King is equally mystical, and also if it not as instantly recognisable as his appearance.

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“What do the New Chinese Believe?: Folk Beliefs and Superstition” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

When you do a quick internet query of ‘religion of China’, several answers appear: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity. Some will be quick to note that the first three answers don’t easily fall into the category of ‘religion’, but are often placed under a ‘philosophy’ branch instead. Regardless, this post will treat them all as having equal governance and significance to their followers’ lives. Continue reading

“Chinese-style Democracy: The Reality” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

Barry Li’s view on the mindset of the new generation of ‘new Chinese’ (basically those born from the 1980s on) can be summed up in the final paragraph of his extract:

“They do not like to hear anyone, including the mainstream Australian media, describe China as an extreme communist country, because it simply is not true. They probably will not be offended if you describe the Chinese as realists, because they mostly are. They will be offended if you tell them that the South China Sea does not belong to China, even though they personally do not own a single drop of water in that sea.”

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“Chinese-style Democracy: Human Rights in China” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

China, as Barry Li disclaims in the very first sentence of this excerpt, does indeed have a “poor record” on human rights. Li doesn’t expound further on particular issues, as neither will I. Plenty of journalists and articles elsewhere explain what has been done or denied to certain people, particularly those of ethnic minorities and those with political agendas not favourable towards the CCP. Likely Li doesn’t want to be blacklisted as a trouble maker in his home country; Continue reading

“Chinese Style Democracy: The Dilemmas” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

The title of this chapter should be enough to give away that this will not be an easy topic. Interesting, undoubtedly, and perhaps controversial. Chinese style democracy is sure to fall short of the hopes of some, and higher in the expectations of others.

This passage is perhaps one of the longest so far, as Li spends more time covering pre 1949 history than anything too contemporary. He does this in order to explain the answer to a question he once heard from a senior manager in a top accounting firm: is there any chance or risk that large, wealthy cities like Beijing and Shanghai – given their significance – may break away and declare independence from China?

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“Four Generations of Change” : Outcomes of the One and Two-Child Policies – Musings from an Australian Perspective

This is not an extract from Li’s book, The New Chinese, but it is such an important development in recent Chinese history that I thought it deserved its own post. There are plenty of accurately researched articles about the policy’s history and about how it was/is implemented that can be easily found; this article will be more a gathering of threads together to explore what the One-Child Policy, and the recent revoking of it into a Two-Child Policy, means in an Australian context.

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“The Four Generations of Change: The Baby Boomers” – Musings from an Australian perspective

 There’s a lot of babies in this chapter. I myself am not overly fond of newborns (I’m told my opinion will change when my friends or I start having children. I’ll wait to believe it.) but it seems that China, between 1949 and 1979, was. If you’ve ever wondered what was happening to China’s population when the one-child-policy was bought in, here’s the breakdown according to Li:

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