Retrospective: 13 years in China

07.02.20 02:16 PM By Jim James

From 2006 - 2019 I lived and worked in Beijing, starting many enterprises, a family, and experiencing the astounding changes which took place in the Middle Kingdom. These were many formative years. I wrote a blog when I first went, stalled when fatherhood shifted by focus from sharing to caring, but now that I am back it seems fitting to have an end note at least on the work which I accomplished in those 13 years.

Overall, I  dedicated myself to the promotion of British business and the wellbeing of the British community in China. I did this by a combination of events which I created for the community, my own businesses, and my involvement in UK Government to China dialogue particularly in the field of automotive trade.

The introduction of the British Business Awards to China created a focal point for the community to celebrate ‘Innovation, Enterprise and Endeavour.’ I started this myself in late 2007 and carried it through to launch in Nov 2008 my capacity as a member of the Executive Committee. I used my own offices to engage the British foreign office, businesses and Chinese Government and media to take part. I enlisted Sir William Ehrman, Ambassador at that time, to become the Patron of the Awards and then gained the support of the British Council, China Britain Business Council, Chambers of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry and 48 Group Club. The Awards were attended by The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, the Director General of the Ministry of Commerce, and 400 guests including the media. The BBA contributed nearly GBP100,000 in profits to the Chamber of Commerce; making it the most significant fund raising event of the year. 

Fast forward to 2018, with Patron HMA Dame Barbara Woodward DCMG OBE, as Vice Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the Awards I led the Chamber team to organise the (a website built and still hosted by  one of I’s invested companies). Sponsors included KPMG, the British Council, Geely, Manchester University, GSK, BP and Harrow Schools. Winners included Rolls Royce, Teledyne, University of Edinburgh, Nom Nom, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, Atkins, and Spiraxsarco Engineering (China) Ltd. Voting was conducted by a process devised by I which included a 40/30/30 split between a judging panel, online voting, and an Ambassadors panel to ensure transparency, engagement and credibility. National Chinese and British press covered the awards and the winners all benefitted both within China and in the UK from the recognition of their success.

The Awards once again made a significant financial contribution to the wellbeing of the Chamber of Commerce in China with over GBP50,000 in profits. The Awards have now become a centre piece in the Chamber events calendar, and has spawned derivations such as the CSR Award and the Alumni of the Year Award. I identified and filled the need for a celebration of British success in China, and started a trend in the process.

In my capacity as an entrepreneur, I was an ardent supporter and importer of British brands in China. In 2013 HM Ambassador to China Sebastian Wood CMG opened the first Morgan Motor Company showroom in China. I purchased a Morgan in 2011 and imported it to China for his personal use under my company EASTWEST Public Relations. Due to the interest received I approached the Factory and won approval to be the authorised importer. Over the period 2013-2019 I promoted the Morgan brand, lent the vehicle to official British Embassy events e.g. the Queens birthday parties, and positioned Morgan in the media and at trade shows to demonstrate the great British qualities of craftsmanship and style.

We ordered 65 cars from the British Factory, to the value of GBP2.5m, and gave jobs to Chinese alumni of British Universities on their return to China. I established the national network for Morgan Cars in China - with dealerships in Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing, with over 250,000 unique visitors to their website which also promoted tours to the UK in partnership with Hello Britain and merchandise from other British vendors e.g. Motolita.

During 2015 I was approached by Lotus Cars UK to become an interim CEO, and during this time he established the British Motorsport Festival. The BMF was a platform for UK brands as an alternative to expensive and static trade shows, and I hosted the BMF in Beijing in 2015, 2016 and 2018 with the support Department for International Trade. The events were funded and managed by me and were attended by British car brands including Aston Martin, JLR, McLaren, Lotus, Morgan, MINI and associated British brands for food, drink and apparel.  In the final year I set up a partnership with ACE Cafe, a Chinese company with the franchise to the London ACE Cafe venue. 

In 2016 I created and produced the British Motorsport Conference, with funding applied for and received from the DIT which met venue costs but no other costs. I invited speakers from the UK including Silverstone, South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP), and ProDrive, and from China including Golden Port Race Track Enterprise, China Automobile and Motorsport Federation (CAMF), and media partners including the HURUN report. The 1 day conference had over 100 attendees which led to the promotion of British venues and technologies, and the live streaming of the event had over 1,000,000 views!. 

As Vice Chairman of the British Chamber during two terms of 2017-18 & 2018-2019 with my direct involvement in the automotive industry, I played a direct role in preparation of materials for the DIT to engage with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). In the Business Environment Market Access report (BEMA) submitted to DIT in June 2018 I was listed as a contributor. For the full reports to follow in late 2018 and 2019 I called upon industry connections to engage the homologation departments of Aston Martin, Lotus, McLaren, and JLR hosting round table discussions, reviewing the editorial arising from those, and briefing DIT representatives on issues facing British companies with the introduction of new emission standards to China.  The final Position Papers were submitted by the Chamber to the DIT covering a number of sectors including Automotive, Legal, Accounting, Built Environment and Education. 

During this time I was also advocating British businesses and supporting British education. In 2017 I became the importer for WAKE Drinks to China using the flag branded drink to promote British sports culture at events including the International Food & Drink expo in Shanghai on the CBBC pavillion, and using social media. EASTWEST Public Relations, was working with British universities and brands to gain exposure and to gain sales and students. British brands including AGA,  Optalysys GKN, and Universities including York, Kent and Queens University Belfast have continued to use the services of EASTWEST in China.  From 2015-2017 I was recognised by the British Council as a Leading Light and by the Chinese Marketing Magazine an ‘International ICON.’

As part of the Morgan Cars in China business, I made an effort to engage with the community through the brand. He partnered with the Wheels Plus Wings charity, donating a wheel chair to a young Chinese lad named Bo, and created an event for disadvantaged children to feel, touch and ride in a Morgan 3 Wheeler. I connected the Roundabout Charity with technology companies, and was the founding President in 2007 of the Beijing Chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization ( which is still in operation. In 2008 I invested in a web company operated by Alex Dodkin, and used that agency to build the original site for the, which it is still doing 10 years later with his sponsorship.

Back in the UK, I have remained involved in the China Britain relationship. Oct 17th taking part in the capacity as ex officio board member of the British Chamber of Commerce at the British Chambers of Commerce International Trade Summit. I am also an Executive Committee member of the Hainan International Chamber of Commerce, with a remit to build UK - Hainan trade relations. 

Jim James

Founder UnNoticed Ventures Ltd