US consultancy Gallup withdraws from China

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Gallup, the polling and consulting group, is pulling out of China, making it the latest foreign company to retrench from the country amid rising scrutiny of western consultancies and whipsawing geopolitical tensions.

The Washington-based advisory group, which first came to China in 1993, employed dozens of staff at its offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, according to public payroll records, many of whom work as consultants helping Chinese companies re-engineer their organisations or optimise their marketing.

Gallup also has an educational and training arm in China, but it has long faced difficulties conducting the public polling it is best known for globally because of strict Chinese rules governing foreign groups carrying out public opinion surveys.   

Gallup told clients this week it was retreating from China, according to three people close to the matter. It advised customers that it would move some projects outside the country, while others would be cancelled. 

“Regrettably, Gallup has made the decision to close its operations in China,” the company said in a notice seen by the Financial Times.

The company is closing all three of its offices in mainland China and it is unclear what portion of the group’s local employees will be retained. Gallup also previously had an office in Guangzhou, which it closed in 2014, according to public records.

Gallup did not respond to requests for comment.

US consultancies have been struggling to attract business in China, where a broader economic slowdown has been compounded by state security agencies scrutinising the consulting industry over concerns that sharing data with foreign companies could jeopardise national security.

Chinese security agents have raided US consultancies such as Bain & Company, due diligence group Mintz and expert network provider Capvision, and expanded the scope of an already sweeping espionage law to include “all documents, data, materials and articles concerning national security and interests”.

Capvision, an expert network platform, said last month that Chinese authorities had approved an overhaul of its compliance system after the company was accused of tapping government officials to provide sensitive information to overseas clients.

Gallup, in particular, has found itself a target of authorities’ ire because its global polling has shown unfavourable attitudes towards China.

The nationalist state-owned tabloid Global Times this year claimed that the group’s polls “serve as a tool to contain China and maintain US dominance” after one survey in March showed the proportion of Americans who viewed China favourably had declined to 15 per cent, a record low. 

The editorial added that the polls “have become a tool manipulated by [American] political elites to discredit China on the international stage” and claimed its results were being used to “contain and isolate China”. 

Gallup’s withdrawal comes as other multinational consultancies have taken steps to reduce their footprint in the country. Forrester Research, a tech-focused consultancy, has cut a majority of its in-country analysts, while expert network group Gerson Lehrman Group began trimming its headcount in China this summer, after initially planning to expand in the country this year.

US blue-chip management consultancies have also offered staff paid leave or delayed start dates for new hires, leaving them operating with a skeleton staff of overloaded consultants.

Additional reporting by Joe Leahy in Beijing


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