Robert Lee, Chairman of China National Service Corporation for Chinese Personnel Working Abroad (CNSC), told during the recent China’s Century Conference in Hainan, that the company sees massive potential to serve even more Chinese customers abroad, in Africa, Uzbekistan as well as many others, as China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) gathers momentum.

Highlighting new China-Europe transit routes between Amsterdam and Chongqing (where CNSC has an arrivals duty free store at the airport), Chengdu and Poland [there is also another between Chengdu and Luxembourg], Lee said the scheme holds great promise for their travel retail business.

“The Belt and Road Initiative covers a lot of countries, especially developing countries,” said Lee. “Along the Belt and Road there are a lot of countries with which China has great economic cooperation.

“The cooperation is not only through the flow of money, goods and technology, but also the flow of people. Of course, this is what we need to run a viable travel retail business. So right now, we are developing our opportunities and are in negotiations with various countries where there are many Chinese workers in residence.”

Building Loyalty in Foreign Lands

Lee said CNSC is perfectly positioned to help well-known Chinese brands develop their business in other countries, as the Belt and Road initiative develops among Chinese people working abroad, but also introducing them to foreign customers.

“For example, we have an arrangement with the Chungwha cigarette factory,” said Lee. “Their brand in China is well known everyone knows it. But they want to serve Chinese customers abroad and also they want to develop their customer base among foreigners.

“It is natural for any company, once they establish their brand at home, to have ambitions to expand abroad. It’s the same with Moutai. We are helping them to develop in foreign markets for the overseas Chinese, but also foreigners.”

Lee said CNSC is currently ‘studying opportunities’ in an African country (which he is not yet prepared to divulge) along with Uzbekistan in addition to some others.

Robert-Lee
Photo: Robert Lee, Chairman of China National Service Corporation.

‘Only The Beginning’

“Of course you know that our name is the China National Service Corporation, but our full name is China National Service Corporation for Chinese personnel working abroad, which means it’s really only the beginning for us in terms of tapping into the huge numbers of Chinese abroad,” said Lee.

For example in some African countries, such as Angola, I think there are more than 0.5m Chinese living there.

“Another example…There is steel company in Chengdu, which has one steel plant in a country in Africa. They have 50,000 Chinese employees working there. You only need 10 companies and you can make 0.5m. So it’s a huge market.”

CNSC currently only has operations in two countries outside of China; one is in Tokyo (a long-established store) and a supply company (liquor and tobacco for overseas Chinese) in Dubai. As much as Lee is eager for CNSC to extend its reach overseas, he says their strategy is ‘China-first’.

“It’s China-first for us, before overseas expansion. We can’t grow too fast overseas; we must go carefully step by step.”

As previously China’s Century official delegate magazine, CNSC has plans to upgrade 12 stores including its Shanghai flagship store which originally opened in 2016 before 2020.