Insights and Analysis

China’s Young Entrepreneurs Abroad

January 12, 2011

By V. Bruce J. Tolentino

Recently, while in transit in Denpasar Airport on my way to Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, I met a trio of young Chinese entrepreneurs. At first glance, I thought they were tourists – two women and a man, mid-to-late 20s, dressed in T-shirts and shorts, sporting the latest cell phones and lots of bling. In halting English, the young man asked me for directions, and we fell into conversation.

I told them that I was travelling to Dili as part of my job as a development economist, and they responded that they were going to Dili to scout out investment and business opportunities. It was their first time out of China, and (of course) their first time to Timor-Leste. They decided to come to Timor because they had heard from friends of friends that Dili is a good place for investors and young entrepreneurs.

I asked what had motivated them to travel out of China in search of business. “Well,” they said, “These days in China, it is increasingly harder for young people like us to enter into business, since there are so many other young people doing the same thing!”

In fact, there must be many, many young entrepreneurs in today’s China. It is estimated that by 2015 China will have 500 million people under age 30. That’s staggering when you compare that to the total combined population of the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at 600 million. Moreover, the incomes of China’s 20-somethings grew by 34 percent over the past three years (reckons Credit Suisse), the fastest growth among all age groups of China’s very large population.

Moreover, the investment funds that they had been able to secure from the bank in their home province of Guangdong was only about $100,000, which they said “is quite small compared to what is required to set up a business in China today.” They added that they had to have their parents sign on as guarantees so the bank would give them a loan.

“And what kind of businesses do you think you will get into?” I asked. “Trading and retailing is easy,” they replied. “We can sell all sorts of goods now being produced in China.” When I replied that Dili already had many Chinese-owned stores selling Chinese goods, they said not to worry. They would visit the Chinese families already in Dili and get their advice on other towns still open for more entrepreneurs.

I watched these young investors with envy. I wished that I could see my own children go out into the world as confident entrepreneurs. I wished that other governments could provide similar incentives as these young Chinese investors were armed with.

Most of all, I envied them, for they seemed to be having fun.

V. Bruce J. Tolentino is The Asia Foundation’s chief economist and director for Economic Reform and Development Programs. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: China, Timor-Leste
Related programs: Economic Opportunity


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