Diamonds are China's best friend

Diamonds are China's best friend

CHINA - Large, affluent Chinese middle class has changed an age-old European business

Chu Xiao's office is only 50 meters from Antwerp's central railway station. Through a window, the Beijinger can see crowds of people from every corner of the world flowing in and out of the city every day.

The scenery through that window hasn't changed much in the past century, but the owner of this office changed three years ago from a Jewish businessman to a Chinese one.

Every morning, many Jewish people in their orthodox black robes gather along this street to trade diamonds, just as they have done for hundreds of years. When Chu, 30, decided to quit his job in a Shenzhen-based diamond company three years ago, he made the boldest decision of his life to open his own business in Antwerp.

The Belgian city is the world's main diamond trading centre. Given its high share of the global trade, saying that the sparkling stones are an iconic facet of Antwerp's reputation and image is no exaggeration.

In the past decade in the city's two diamond wholesale streets and four bourses - the most diamond bourses in any city in the world - more Indians and Chinese have been seen alongside the Jewish dealers.

Seeing the potential demand in the Chinese market, Chu realised that he had to go to the city where most diamond transactions originate. However, setting up a business in Antwerp was harder than he imagined. When he arrived, almost all of the wholesale diamond traders were Jewish or Indian.

Diamonds and Antwerp have been intertwined for more than 550 years, and the Jewish community has dominated the diamond trade for much of that time. On one of the two trading streets there is a synagogue opposite the Antwerp World Diamond Center.

Now, Indian companies control about 60 per cent of the global trade in polished diamonds. Every morning, when the four bourses open, the narrow street where Chu works suddenly fills with people, and everyone seems to know each other. Many million dollars' worth of deals can be made through a handshake or a greeting. On this street, trust is everything.

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