Expanding soft power and influence via chief experience officers

Li Xinran
Changning District in western Shanghai is home to a greater number of expatriates than any other district. The area acts as a hub for international communities.
Li Xinran
Expanding soft power and influence via chief experience officers
Chen Yang / Ti Gong

Members of the Hongqiao Friendship Alliance, nominated as chief experience officers of the Greater Hongqiao Area, walk on the riverside of the Suzhou Creek to learn about the latest developments in Changning.

One year after the Hongqiao Friendship Alliance was established in Changning District, 12 members of the alliance were nominated as chief experience officers of the Greater Hongqiao Area to play their part in expanding the influence and soft power of Changning, Greater Hongqiao, Shanghai and China.

At the same time, Changning released 25 "Greater Hongqiao International Experience Bases" in the district for foreign guests to learn about the charm of the city's international community, according to the district government.

The 25 bases include Greater Hongqiao Business Service Center, Hongqiao International Trade Service Center, SIMIC Valley and Digital Changning Experience Hall (under construction), iFLYTEK Experience Hall, the waterfront of the Changning campus of East China University of Political Science and Law, Columbia Circle and Hongqiao International Library.

Multilingual and other services will be offered at the bases for the convenience of visitors, in particular those from overseas. The chief experience officers were fortunately among the first experimenters.

They visited the waterfront of the Changning campus of ECUPL and Columbia Circle on a recent Tuesday after their nomination.

One among them, a Turkish expatriate named Noyan Rona, told Shanghai Daily, "I'm the honorary chairman of the alliance and very glad to take up my new position as a chief experience officer.

"Changning has the city's biggest international community, and it is Changning's advantage and obligation to better tell the significance of Shanghai's further opening-up for more foreigners and foreign investors to settle down here." He added, "Changning is the west portal of Shanghai and the alliance is a portal to the West. Every member of the alliance may better tell the stories of Changning, Shanghai and China."

To offer an exchange platform for high-level foreign professionals, the Hongqiao Friendship Alliance was established last October. The alliance comprises recipients of the Hongqiao Friendship Award, recipients of the Shanghai Magnolia Award and other outstanding foreigners with great influence who have made remarkable contributions to Shanghai and Changning.

Each member serves two years. The alliance is under the guidance of the Changning District Joint Meeting on Honorary Titles for Foreign Citizens. The secretariat is the Foreign Affairs Office of Changning District.

The alliance will organize one or two dialogues, meetings or activities every year, enhancing mutual understanding, encouraging outstanding foreigners to share experiences and valuable insights for Changning to build an international district of refinement with global influence.

Ambassadors to the world

Kamran Vossoughi, president and chief executive officer of Michelin China, noted that he is very honored and grateful for the support of Changning and its foreign affairs office to organize these kind of activities.

"I'm honored to act as chairman of the alliance and glad to see Changning move toward global direction amid the strategy the country is pushing for," said Vossoughi. "We are the best ambassadors for Changning and Shanghai at this moment."

Habib-Ur-Rehman, a member of the alliance, highly praised Changning's environment. "First of all, it is quite safe here. I work as a Ping'an Volunteer (Volunteer for Peace) in Changning, and through the voluntary service I won the Magnolia Award in 2019," said the vice manager of Pakpersian Carpets (Shanghai) Co Ltd.

"I think the first and most important thing is safety. Otherwise, there is no real exchange, economic and cultural development and education, among others.

"The development in a safe environment is very good, which provides us with a lot of opportunities and a wide range of international exchange despite the COVID-19 pandemic."

Rehman said he is full of confidence that the development and opening up of Greater Hongqiao will certainly attract many foreign-funded enterprises to invest in Changning.

Linda Painan with The Expatriate Center told Shanghai Daily that one of the major features of Changning is internationalization. "We conducted a survey recently, that is, about 40 percent of foreign families in Shanghai are based in Changning, so that interaction and demands will be different.

"We are happy to see that the '15 minute life circle' being established in Changning is not only for the convenience of domestic residents but also expats," Painan said.

Earlier, a total of six outstanding foreigners from Changning won the "Magnolia Silver Award," a record number in Changning's history and among all the downtown districts.

They are among the 50 foreign nationals honored with the award on September 15.

The award, named after the city flower, was initiated by the Shanghai government in 1989 to honor foreigners for their contributions to the city, with 1,316 expats having received the award so far. It is worth mentioning that four of the six outstanding foreigners from Changning are members of the Hongqiao Friendship Alliance this year.

Along with Vossoughi, the other three award-winning members are Rohit Jawa, president of Unilever North Asia since 2017, Aidong Qu, chief scientist of Shanghai Institute of Biological Products Co, Ltd and Nusrat Marat, vice president of Zhongtianxuxin Holding Group.

Vossoughi expressed his gratitude to the Shanghai government and people for the honor on behalf of the 50 recipients.

Before that, he launched a proposal of the Hongqiao Friendship Alliance in May to help Changning build an international district of refinement with global influence.

Vossoughi proposed members of the alliance further deepen exchanges and cooperation with Changning, so as to help the district improve its functional level and core competitiveness, enhance the friendship between China and foreign countries and build a community of common destiny for mankind with practical actions and build bridges and ties to expand the influence of Changning in an all-round way.

One of the impressive venues the experience officers visited is the Changning campus of ECUPL, which features 27 historic buildings with different styles that have gone through a century of vicissitudes in the campus show a new look.

Another highlight is the Columbia Circle. It features three historic houses, 11 industrial transformation complexes and four contemporary buildings with distinctive styles. The main site of the ongoing Shanghai Urban Space Art Season 2021 is where new and old complement each other, transform the past and the present, while the humanities and fashion bloom together, which has become a model of urban renewal in Shanghai, and reflects the outstanding achievements of Changning to build an international community of excellence.

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