Salesmanship becomes new skill for ambassadors
The business of foreign diplomats in China is increasingly about business, as many try their hand at livestreaming, feature in television programs and even deliver exports to customers in person in a bid to promote their products in the world's second largest economy.
For Palitha Kohona, the ambassador of Sri Lanka to China, the attractiveness of the Chinese market has proved so irresistible that he has tried various ways to bring his country's exports closer to Chinese consumers, despite the language barrier and being a newcomer to salesmanship.
He made his livestreaming debut at the Chinese International Import Expo in November, when he joined a Chinese influencer to promote Sri Lankan tea, biscuits, wine and other products.
In front of the camera, he introduced viewers to the benefits of the tea he drinks on a daily basis, as well as the coconut oil products he uses.
His efforts paid off massively as the goods were snapped up within minutes.
"I was surprised to hear that after I joined, the number of viewers jumped to 1.53 million, and she (the influencer) got rid of her stock within 30 minutes," Kohona said.
Last year, Sri Lanka exported tea products worth 57 million dollars to China, and he expected this figure to rise to 100 million dollars in the near future.
The Sri Lankan envoy's enthusiasm for livestreaming and market development is shared by James Kimonyo, the Rwandan ambassador to China, who first joined a livestreaming session selling coffee－the east African nation's top consumer export－a year ago.
"The Chinese market is a huge market that has seen tremendous growth in terms of the middle-income group, which has a huge purchasing power," he said.
Kimonyo explained that he became interested in livestreaming after realizing that "it is becoming a very powerful tool not only in marketing products but also in directly interacting with consumers.
"So livestreaming platforms have really become an effective tool for us to increase our sales in China and to create awareness among the consumers to know Rwandan coffee and tea," he said.
He added that all the livestreaming events have brought about phenomenal sales, and demand has even overwhelmed supply.
With China's efforts to expand its imports and boost the growth of cross-border e-commerce, the nation is also sharing opportunities from its growth and helping other developing nations tackle their own problems, especially poverty, said Cui Fan, an international trade and economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.