Book Reviews

Preparing for the Future

A Tool for Strategic Planning

China 2020: Future Scenarios, A workshop report prepared by The National Bureau of Asian Research; held February, 2007 in Warrenton, Virginia. Forthcoming from ChinaSource.

Reviewed by Tiger Lily

In February, a group of China experts met in the U.S. to consider possible scenarios of what China would be like in 2020. The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) and ChinaSource organized the interactive workshop with a view that it would enhance participants’ ability to lead their organizations’ strategic planning processes.

The main argument is that “straight line” extrapolation based on positive current trends is risky because China faces significant social, political, economic and demographic challenges, and the future is anything but certain. Participants concluded that any potential future for China is one in which their organizations have plenty of opportunity for making positive contributions. However, some expressed that their organizations may not be prepared for certain eventualities mapped out in the scenarios.

The alternative futures were evaluated across four strategic dimensions, namely domestic politics, economics, foreign relations and the social or cultural realm. Out of these scholarly reports, four alternative scenarios were constructed. Discussions ensued and small groups assessed how the four futures evolved by identifying trends, drivers and signposts for each as well as the threats and opportunities presented in each scenario.[1]

The keynote presentations that dealt with the issues of demographics, rural-urban migration, and China’s past, which shapes its present, have already been presented in the articles in this issue. In addition, a summary of the four scenarios resulting from the sessions has also been provided. Therefore, this review will focus on the commentary that dealt with how this scenarios analysis is helpful in organizational strategic planning. It will also consider what else, perhaps, could have been done or should be included in future forums so that the results of such discussions will be even more helpful, especially for organizations and other related stakeholders in China.[2]

In all likelihood, very few organizations would have had the resources, foresight and will to have organized such a forum or to take advantage of such a meeting and factor the considerations into their strategic planning. For many organizations, their mission[3] is unlikely to change, even with all this information in hand, and rightly so. However, this information is more likely to impact strategic planning and decisions at both the organizational level and on the ground. While it is the vision and mission of an organization that directs its course and drives its operations, a successful and effective organization will have thought about the future and made plans for alternative futures. Thus, it is in a better position to recognize and seize opportunities. I agree with one of the facilitators that for many organizations it is not so much the lack of opportunities, but rather the right choice of opportunities to pursue. This, in turn, results in allocation of time and resources which, we would all agree, are limited. In deciding on which opportunities to focus on, an organization should ask, “What is our mission?” or “What is our core business?” Then, to be better prepared for the future, it needs to make the appropriate adjustments, especially in strategies and allocation of resources.

Whichever scenario is forthcoming in China’s future, there are opportunities for ministry. These may be in the training or mentoring of local believers; in education, theological or otherwise; in social services, with intellectuals, professionals or business people. Apart from these, many foreign organizations would have to either “reinvent” themselves or find themselves irrelevant as the Chinese are able to do, and would take over, much of the work that many foreign NGOs (or other platforms) are now doing, given an open democracy scenario with active indigenous NGOs (or other institutions). In such an eventuality, it is not necessarily a bad thing for those organizations affected as we do want to see the rise of indigenous leaders and ministry. The issue then would be whether foreign organizations would recognize the time to let go and let the Chinese take the lead.

I am inclined to agree with one of the keynote speakers that China’s leadership will more likely choose a Singapore-type model of increasing freedom in the economical sector with growth in the economy and, to some extent, in the social/cultural sphere. However, it is unlikely to loosen its grip on political control, preferring to have a stronger authoritarian (as opposed to a constitutional democracy) rule with Confucian values. With the handing over of the fourth generation leaders to the fifth generation this year, the rise of Chinese businesses, the promotion of Confucianism both at home and abroad, the current attitude of the authorities towards Christians (and other religious groups) and NGOs, and the increasing growth in the number of returnees from abroad, the next few years will, indeed, be key in shaping China’s future.

Believers need, and will continue to need, professional and management skills as well as ideas for new ways of impacting society other than through traditional religious structures. This is true for both foreign and local believers. In addition, there is a lot of social capital in the Chinese/Asian Diaspora that is still untapped. It would be important for organizations to work with the Asian Christian identity and networks given the influence of overseas Chinese Christians in shaping the growth of the church in China. This would include some of the overseas Chinese church networks and regional Asian networks—church, business or otherwise. Some are already involved in setting up new models of church as the political climate makes it harder for traditional models to grow or accommodate growth. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. This means that organizations, where possible, should explore or continue to explore new models of church with local leaders, especially in the marketplace and businesses given the potential of the growing impact of Christian professionals, intellectuals and business leaders in the community.

This leads to my concluding comments on the forum. Interested organizations would benefit further if other stakeholders would give their input in perhaps a second forum, say at one of the China-related conferences. Most of the participants in the February forum were from, or based in, the U.S. Accurate maps are drawn as one surveys the terrain and topography viewed from different angles and perspectives, perhaps with various lenses. In the same way, input from other major stakeholders, in a separate closed-door meeting, would add further value and a broader perspective. These stakeholders would include Asians and especially Chinese (based in China or Greater China) intellectuals, business leaders, policy makers (also Asians involved in public policy who are focused on China-relations), church network leaders from both urban and rural areas, some from the European Union (China’s number one trade partner and its largest technologies provider)[4] and other major organizations with work in China. This may then narrow the possible scenarios, fine tune them or even broaden them. In any case, the discussions would have a dimension broader than just Western; they would provide an indigenous and on-the-ground dimension that would be of greater help to the organizations, especially since the majority in this proposed group are major players or involved in casting vision, strategic planning or implementing strategies. They have more direct impact upon, and contact with, the Chinese and the indigenous church.

One other major player to watch out for would be the Middle East. Starting in 2005, there has been an escalating dialogue between Asia and the Middle East. Since then, many bilateral trade agreements have been signed, or are soon to be signed, and other cooperative efforts have been agreed on.[5] With the current state of affairs between the West and the Islamic world, one can only extrapolate that this Asia-Middle East relationship will continue to grow. China, as with major economies, is heavily reliant on the energy resources in the Middle East. Given that China’s main trade partners have a Christian heritage, how will growing interaction between Asia and the Middle East and the possible rise of Islam in Asia then affect China and foreign organizations operating in China?[6] Perhaps, when future forums, similar or modified, are held in a few years’ time, it would be wise to include Christian scholars on Islam and/or representatives from the Middle East.[7]

Of course, among all the wild cards that the report mentions, there is always one wild card in the believers’ favor that is not mentioned: that is the mysterious way in which God works, and how prayer is strategic fuel for positive change!


  1. ^ The report provides definitions for the following terms:Ÿ TŸŸrends–A series of unfolding events that move in a general direction or consistent pattern (e.g. market-oriented economy). Drivers–Motivators for certain courses of action; forces of causation (e.g. China’s entry into the WTO has caused greater economic integration). Signposts–Key identifiable and quantifiable indicators that show direction, either change or constant direction (e.g. a national savings rate of < 15% shows increased domestic consumption). Wild cards–Discontinuous events that impose internal or external shocks in ways that could change prevailing trends, or even become drivers or new trends (e.g. pandemics or breakthrough invention). Fixed conditions–Factors consistent across a range of scenarios (e.g. demography). Stakeholders–Individuals, classes or entities that are either significantly active or passive as inputs to the drivers (winners or losers).
  2. ^ Other stakeholders include the local leaders, business leaders and even other Chinese networks.
  3. ^ The mission and vision of an organization should not change because that is why it exists in the first place. However, over a period of time, if after such an assessment, the leaders realize that they could become irrelevant in the next five, ten or twenty years, they might want to review their mission and vision, not just their strategies. In this case, the organization may then go for change in a big way and “reinvent itself.”
  4. ^ and
  5. ^ This includes social/cultural aspects such as education and cultural exchange programs.
  6. ^ Track the news on certain websites such as that for Gulf in the Media, AMED and PINR, and you will see the trend of growing cooperation between the two regions, which of course includes China, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  7. ^ Given that the more mature local churches or those with ample resources are moving in the direction of cross-cultural ministry and realizing their own impact on the world (whether one sympathizes with the well-known “BTJ” movement or not) this would be wise.
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Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily (pseudonym) has been in leadership roles that involve vision casting, strategic planning and implementation, and leadership training.View Full Bio