SEVEN years ago, China organised the Boao Forum for Asia. It was yet another attempt by the Chinese Government in its open-door policy to attract investments from all over the world. This week, Boao, in China's Hainan Province, is hosting the seventh conference, attracting some of the world's biggest movers and shakers.
Bill Gates is here and Microsoft is one of two top sponsors for the confernce. For someone whose business revenue totalled US$44.28 billion for the fiscal year ended June 2006, and employing 71,000 people in 103 countries, Bill Gates certainly has a lot of faith in the conference. And justifiably so!
Investment bank Merrill Lynch is another top sponsor, as is Nissan, Starbucks, the Asian Development Bank and UPS. Financial Times, Bloomberg Television and BBC World are among six media partners for the annual conference.
Set in Boao, on the estuary of the famous Wanquan River, the conference is set to be one of the biggest talk shows in Asia. With its setting not unlike Langkawi, the venue is very conducive for a week of high-end networking, with the possibility of million-dollar deals and future global business tie-ups.
The fact that some of the world's top brands are supporting the conference reflect the growing importance of China as an economic superpower. Asia - namely China and India - are two of the most sought-after countries for new foreign direct investments. Both countries offer an extremely big market, triggering much excitement among money-makers.
I sit in the International Conference Centre and can feel the adrenaline flowing among delegates. Compared to the inaugural conference when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Chinese Premier then shared the podium, this year's conference has taken a mega step forward with side shows such as an art exhibition, a charity dinner, a major signing ceremony of a ship-building agreement worth US$3 billion and the usual round of a friendly golf tournament among participants.
Give it another three years and the BOAO conference will be a must-attend conference in this part of the world. Give it another 10 years, the world's major economic players will want to be seen here! Mind you, Beijing will be hosting the next Olympic and everyone is geared to meet the world's attention. China, let me tell you, will rise to the occassion. To many businessmen, it is already a major destination for their ventures.
I can't help but think of the Langkawi Dialogue, and its spin-off, the South African Dialogue. When it was first started, it was billed as a major political, economic and social bridge between Malaysia and Africa. It attracted both praise and criticisms.
Could the Langkawi Dialogue found its importance reduced because of the lack of interest and direction from its movers and backers? Was is something too ahead of its time? Had it not met its objectives? The Boao conference organisers can give the people responsible for the Langkawi Dialogue now some lessons in international marketing and networking.
A quick stop at the make-shift Starbucks cafe here can give anyone here a glimpse of how far Boao has come on the international map of conferences and networking. The Langkawi Dialogue can be the same, but it is in dire need of renewed commitment and faith.