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Travel Report: Siran Huang, Latin American Studies

November 13, 2015
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Siran Huang, a Master's student in Latin American Studies, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Ecuador. Her report:

China’s growing investment in Latin America has raised concerns about the economic, social and environmental impacts resulting from these investments. Recently some case studies showed that Chinese companies in the region do not perform significantly worse than their North American counterparts, and in some aspects Chinese companies perform even better. I conducted a two month fieldwork project in Quito, Ecuador with the objective to understand why Chinese investment has such negative image. To do this, I interviewed seven Chinese companies (two in petroleum, two in telecom, one in mining, one in construction and one in technology), two local NGOs, and two local companies that have worked with Chinese counterparts. I completed 28 semi-structured interviews and a five day on-site observation.

What I found from this fieldwork is that not many people in Quito are aware of the presence of Chinese multinational companies in their country, and those who do have awareness in their majority have negative perceptions. The key issues stem from several factors, the most important being lack of communication, partially due to the incapacity of the labour force, partially due to Chinese SOEs' structural rigidness and cultural values, which fuels the negative perception towards Chinese corporations.

Though connections that I made during the fieldwork, I joined a research project on Corporate Social Responsibility led by one of the companies I interviewed. On October 31st, I was invited by Sichuan University to discuss cross-cultural communication in Chinese companies, particularly relating to my work discussed in this paper with the case study I made in Ecuador. I will also publish an article of my observations and considerations about this field trip in the magazine China Hoy, Spanish edition.

Also, during my data collecting process, I met a Chinese scholar who works for Instituto de América Latina at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and, together, we co-founded a non-governmental organization (Comunidad de Estudios Chinos and Latinoamericanos) with the objective of linking Chinese and Latin American scholars and promoting academic and cultural exchanges between the two regions.

The biggest challenge of field research is to obtain official interview permission from Chinese companies. Most interviews are obtained through personal relationships rather than official channels. Requests for interview are usually ignored by secretaries with the response of “not interested” or “do not have time.”

It was not any surprise to someone like me, who is from the culture and understands Chinese company’s mentality, but it could be misunderstood or misinterpreted in other cultural contexts. Therefore most of the interviews conducted were facilitated through personal connections — even those through personal channels were usually not able to go any further than the person I had a connection with. Similarly, all ethics consents were obtained orally, not by written forms.

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