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December 6, 2019

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World’s supermarket welcomes foreigners

Foreigners helping maintain traffic, doing community service and mediating business disputes.

Scenes like these may be rare in many parts of China but are common in the country’s small commodity hub of Yiwu.

The city in east China’s Zhejiang Province, dubbed as the “World’s Supermarket,” receives more than 550,000 overseas buyers and sells commodities to more than 210 countries and regions every year.

There are about 30,000 foreign buyers in Yiwu each day, half of whom live in hotels and the rest as residents, said Lin Yi, secretary of the Yiwu Committee of the Communist Party of China.

While sharing the dividend of China’s reform and opening-up policy in the world’s small commodity capital, foreign businessmen have also been contributing their efforts and wisdom to the city’s development and social governance.

Each year, the local legislature invites more than 10 foreigners to attend its annual session.

“In fact, we are not just watching as bystanders,” said Kok Chit Hock, a Malaysian businessman who has been living in Yiwu for 15 years and who has attended the legislative sessions multiple times.

“The authorities seriously listen to our advice and have even adopted some.”

Kok said he proposed building a new type of nursing home to give the elderly more freedom for contact with the community at the legislative session this year.

“I didn’t expect the Yiwu Market Development Group would call me to learn about the matter the next day,” he said.

Iranian businessman Hamid Dehghani, another regular attendee of the legislative sessions, said during his 16 years in Yiwu, authorities have taken his advice multiple times.

It took him eight months to set up the first wholly foreign-owned business in Yiwu as he made many trips to the provincial capital of Hangzhou and even Beijing to get the approval.

Later the local government adopted his advice to set up a one-stop international trade service center to handle all foreign-related businesses.

Hamid, with a PhD in psychology and proficient in six languages, also helps mediate disputes between residents in the Jimingshan residential community, home to over 2,300 foreigners from 74 countries and regions.

“I love mediation. I’m thrilled to see people who come for help in anger but leave with hugs and smiles,” he said.

The massive small commodity market in Yiwu, home to 75,000 wholesalers, has set up a mediation committee for foreign-related disputes and recruited foreign mediators.

Chen Jinyan, director of the mediation committee, said it now has 13 part-time foreign mediators from 12 countries.

Over the six years since its establishment, the committee has mediated over 400 foreign-related cases worth a total of 58.7 million yuan (US$8.3 million).

The mediation model can not only solve foreign-related disputes efficiently but also provides a platform for foreign businesspeople to learn more about Chinese laws and regulations as well as culture, said Chen.

In order to promote in-depth integration of foreign businessmen and local people, authorities in Yiwu have also hired foreigners to serve as “street chiefs” along with locals to patrol to see if there are any environmental or traffic issues.

Many foreigners have also joined voluntary blood donations and taken part in community activities including taking care of the elderly.


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