Asia-Pacific

Faking it as a foreign executive in China

As China's rapid development continues, some companies are hiring Westerners to pose as executives in order to secure more business.

Image caption Journalist Mitch Moxley worked as "quality control expert"

Canadian journalist Mitch Moxley told the BBC World Service he was among a group of white North Americans hired by a Chinese company as "quality control experts".

The group pretended to represent a California-based firm in partnership with a Chinese company which had won a contract to develop a production site in Dongying, Shandong province.

"We were a fictional American company that was supposedly spearheading this project," said Mr Moxley.

They were given leaflets and brochures of an American company for their presentations. But there was no such company.

"I searched high and low on the internet and couldn't find any existence of it," he said.

All expenses paid

According to Mr Moxley, fake foreign executives are becoming a common feature of corporate events in China's smaller cities, as they experience rapid growth.

This reflects the desire of many up-and-coming businesses to appear international and well-connected to the West.

"I've been here for about three years and I can think of six or seven people who have done very similar things," he says.

Ben, an American who has been running a business in Beijing for three years, is still amused by the way he was approached by an "agent".

"I was on Skype and I just got a message randomly that said: 'Would you like a free trip to Shanghai?'," he said.

Ben was offered an all-expenses-paid trip for several days near Shanghai and given identity papers to attend an exposition as a "seasonal products buyer".

"The first thing was to go to the opening event. After the opening event, we were taken to the VIP dinner event," he said.

He also appeared as a member of the crowd listening to the speeches by local officials and business leaders.

Image caption China's economic boom has attracted thousands of foreign workers

"They needed foreigners to be in the audience, so that when the camera scans the audience there are foreigners there, with their earpieces on, listening to the speakers."

Ben and his group were later taken to a district near Shanghai that wanted to attract foreign investment.

"We walked around this area of empty buildings. We were given a tour by some guy about how it's great for foreign businesses to come set up in that area.

"And then a TV crew came and start taping us for a few minutes."

'Compromise'

John has been living in Beijing for five years. He got his fake job offer at a Christmas party through "a friend of a friend".

"I was nervous when I first talked to the guy because I thought I'd be spouting lies about who I was," he said.

He was asked to make a speech at the inauguration of a research institute in north-eastern China.

"I was supposed to be representing Canadian businesses and talking about benefits of a low-carbon future."

Although John had some misgivings about meeting senior education officials from the region, he did not feel he had deceived anyone.

"The words in the speech weren't really about me, it was about the institute and the benefits of low carbon. So for me, I was able to compromise just a little bit."

John said the jobs were often offered through personal contacts and mostly attracted students on a tight budget or expatriates looking for a side-income.

But Ben said a recruitment industry targeting Western expatriates had also emerged as a result of the trend.

"The company that we worked for - obviously they knew what they were doing. They got paid for bringing foreigners," he said.

Fake jobs available to white expatriates can last from just a few hours to several days, and can be something as simple as appearing as a guest at an event to attending negotiations on behalf of fake companies.

"Some Germans were hired to pose as apple buyers from a suburb of Beijing," said Ben.

"They actually had to be quite knowledgeable about apples. They got paid a thousand dollars for a few days of work."

No glamour

The victims of the practice, says Ben, are producers and manufactures in smaller towns and cities who rely on "agents" from bigger cities to bring in potential buyers and clients.

Moxley warned that it was not all wining and dining, nor was it particularly interesting.

"We also had to sit in this small temporary office from about 8am to 5 or 6pm doing nothing," he said of one job. "We slept, we read magazines. We joked around."

John and Ben's real names have been withheld to protect their privacy.

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