Suzhou, © Christian Gänshirt

From his birthplace in the Woensel neighborhood in Eindhoven, the Netherlands already seemed immense. But since CEO Hans Duisters made the crossing to China, he knows better. “If ‘size matters‘ is proven anywhere, it is here in this country with its one and a half billion inhabitants.”

Hans Duisters

Duisters has been living in Shanghai for three years now. In that period, he did come back to the Netherlands from time to time, but since Corona that has become difficult, if only because of the mutually compulsory quarantines. In Shanghai, he is not only busy developing his own company, Sioux Technologies, but at least as much with the construction of a “safe landing place” for Dutch companies and governments. In Suzhou, no more than 20 minutes by train from Shanghai, a business center with facilities ranging from factory halls, clean rooms, a service center, showrooms, and a complete sales force is being created.

Designed by China

But why would a Dutch company want to enter the Chinese market in the first place? Doesn’t that cause a lot of hassle and uncertainty, especially considering the sensitive international relations? Hans Duisters sees it differently. “Of course, it is entirely up to each individual company to weigh up the options, but if one thing is certain, it is that the 21st century will be the century of the Asians, with China at the forefront. You can participate or not, you just choose. But in terms of timing, it won’t get much better than it is now, I would say. If you wait another 3 or 4 years, you run the risk of being late. The Chinese are catching up; from a focus on ‘Made in China‘ it quickly evolves to ‘Designed by China’. At the moment, China is still looking for knowledge and experience from the West and that means that there are enormous opportunities, especially in R&D and the high-tech manufacturing industry. We have the know-how to build advanced equipment. The Chinese are fast, but now they still need us.”

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Suzhou © Peter K Burian

“The Chinese are fast, but they need us right now.”

Hans Duisters

Duisters mentions the well-known example of ASML. “If China wants to develop its own aircraft industry, they just put 20,000 engineers together and fix it in a few years. This is partly thanks to the Chinese who have copied the trick in the West for a few years and then make their knowledge useful for their own country. But for wafer steppers like ASML makes them, that’s impossible. We don’t have to be afraid at all to sell such a EUV machine to Chinese companies. What we do need to take into account is that there will be successors for that machine and then China will be ready – with millions and millions of talents eager to participate. Really: size matters, that population of one and a half billion people is tapping into everything. That’s why I say: this is the time to do business.”

Right and wrong

Duisters doesn’t want to participate in discussions about the competition between countries, nor in the easy characterizations of right and wrong. “There is propaganda on both sides, we just know that. But instead of looking at countries, I prefer to make contact with the people themselves. People can work together, companies can work together. Instead of trying to conquer the biggest part of the cake competitively, you can jointly look for ways to make the cake bigger for everyone”. That does not mean being naive, but to learn to look at the S and the O in a SWOT, emphasizes the Sioux director. “I know, there are bad people everywhere, about 1% of the population. That’s the case in the western world and that’s also the case in China. Why bother, you’d rather start from your own strength and look at the opportunities you can create.”

Duisters does not see any fundamental difference between the Netherlands and China when it comes to reaching agreements with governments. “In every ecosystem, you have about 50 people who really matter, who together make up the ecosystem. That is the case in Brainport Eindhoven, and you can see it here as well. Of course, there are differences, especially when it comes to the role of the government. In the Netherlands, the government supports the business community, here the government is the business community. But the resulting game is no different than in the Netherlands. Stakeholders in any region can make each other successful. And not only regionally, but also at the provincial and even state level. I have made sure that I have my entrances on all those levels. That is partly thanks to the position Philips has built up here for decades. Brabant, as a province, has also put a lot of energy into relationships, and I am grateful for that. If you know everyone, it’s fun doing business. That is also the reason why our Sino-Dutch Center was able to secure the very best position in Suzhou.”

Sino Dutch High-Tech Innovation Port

That center, formally the Sino Dutch High-Tech Innovation Port, didn’t come overnight. Duisters has been working on it for three years now. “The first year, I mainly looked around and made plans; the second year I started my company, and the great thing is that you don’t have to repeat the mistakes we made in Eindhoven at the start of Sioux. We now have almost a hundred employees, mainly engineers. We make high tech equipment for various customers. Think of analytical equipment, for sectors such as medical, semiconductor, agrifood, and automotive.” Duisters’ third year marks the beginning of the harvest. “We’ve brought the business in, even in the middle of a year of Corona.”

Sino Dutch Center Suzhou

“Size matters, that population of one and a half billion people is tapping into everything. That’s why I say: this is the time to do business.”

Hans Duisters

And not just the business for Sioux, because Duisters succeeded on-the-go in laying the foundation for much more activity. Together with well-known organizations from Brainport, such as Frenken, NTS, ProDrive, and VDL, he is working on the ‘safe landing site’.

Some twenty companies have now come forward, partly thanks to the help of organizations such as HighTechNL and Brainport Development. “It was actually a logical result of the work I did for our own company. At a certain point, I thought: why would I do this for ourselves alone? If we do it together, it might be much more successful. What’s more, you’ll immediately be a much more serious partner for Chinese companies and governments.”

One of the examples for Duisters was the German Center in Shanghai, but Brainport Industries Campus and High Tech Campus were also constantly on his mind. The fact that it ultimately became Suzhou is due to a combination of good contacts and substantive advantages, says Duisters. “Shanghai, where I now live, is great, but the rents are huge and the city is also increasingly turning into a financial center. As a result, the high-tech industry is shifting to the surrounding area. Suzhou is 23 minutes by train from Shanghai and only 4 hours from Beijing. All cities here have a ranking of 1 to 4. Shanghai has a 1, but Suzhou is still very high at 1.5. The salaries and rents are lower than in Shanghai, it is a beautiful place with lots of opportunities and clean air. We’ll build our factory with four large towers on the best possible location: right on the waterfront, within walking distance of the station.”

From poverty to prosperity

Meanwhile, Duisters likes his life in Shanghai and Suzhou very much. “China is a mighty interesting country with people who are generally full of praise for what they have achieved in recent years, thanks in part to the choices made by the government. Prosperity is certainly not the same everywhere, but when you see how many people were able to grow from enormous poverty to great wealth in a relatively short period of time, it simply appeals to the imagination. The pride you feel here about the way they beat the Coronavirus is really palpable. Yes, being ordered to stay inside for fourteen days means really being inside for those two weeks. Nobody even thinks of disobeying. The only movement you saw on the street during that period was caused by the food deliverers. The virus was gone in a fortnight.”

Suzhou Station © AlexHe34

“If it’s in the five-year plan, you can be sure it will be implemented.”

Hans Duisters

Of course, that comes at a price, says Duisters. “If they want to build their own WhatsApp, it means that they are shutting down the American WhatsApp. And that’s how it works for many more initiatives: because of the size of everything here, they have the luxury of putting their own market first and blocking a lot of what comes from outside. But let’s face it: one and a half billion people, two main languages, and fifty racial varieties. We in the West have been building our prosperity since the 1950s, here it’s all very recent. And you can say a lot about the government, but they always keep their promises. If it’s in the five-year plan, you know for sure that it will be implemented.”

Cameras

And some things, such as the lack of privacy, just look a bit different from the West, Duisters has been able to establish by now. “Every lamppost, every traffic light, and every street corner has a camera. Nothing goes unnoticed. People here think that’s fine, if only because that means that nothing will ever be stolen. You can safely leave your iPhone on the table if you have to go to the toilet in a restaurant, and it often happens that someone for example forgets his backpack at the bus stop and it is still there hours later. But the lack of privacy that’s connected to this goes much further. The other day I had to go to the hospital for a blood test. You then stand in a queue until it’s your turn and all treatments take place in front of the person next in line. And everything is stored in databases, whether it is a blood sample, an MRI-scan, or any striking disease pattern. The result is that no country knows more about the human body than China. Everyone thinks that’s good, both for themselves and for society. Understandable, if you know that with that, for example, diseases like Alzheimer’s can be unraveled sooner. It’s all fine for me too, although I understand very well that not everyone is so open-minded. But all in all, it’s what will make this China’s century. And I am happy to join in with that.”

Suzhou

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Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.