On April 1st, 2017, the Chinese government announced the formation of a new special economic and development zone: the Xiong’an New Area. About 60 miles southwest of Beijing, in Hebei province, the area will combine the now relatively rural counties of Rongcheng, Anxin and Xiong. With an expected investment of $583 billion over the next 20 years in infrastructure alone, Xiong’an is set to transform from a largely agricultural and low-tech manufacturing region, into a high-tech, environmentally sustainable modern metropolis. It will also, according to the plan, alleviate some population pressures from Beijing while serving as a destination for some administrative departments, logistics bases and other government offices.
The sharing economy exploded in China this year, with companies for all kinds of shareable objects taking part in this new business model. While there are businesses familiar to Westerners—shared offices, cars and rides—there are also ideas that seem a little kooky, such as shared basketballs and umbrellas. Although some call it innovative, many realize these companies are just “rental 2.0” companies, assisted by digital technology. As the concept reaches fever pitch, however, it is also facing a reality check, especially as many firms, ballooned by venture capital funds, start to show signs of failing.
For the past few years, China has been pursuing a new and ambitious state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform program. SEOs are huge in terms of size, yet they only provide 16% of jobs, less than a third of national economic output, and a return on assets of only 2.9%. Hugely inefficient, debt-ridden and responsible for most of China’s ballooning corporate debt, SOEs are a drag on an economy that Beijing wants to transition—unlike past efforts which is about privatization, but just the opposite—from investment and export-driven to services and consumption-driven.
Many developing nations see China as a champion and as an investor. Western countries wish to see China shoulder a greater share of the burden of global leadership, and a growing number of Chinese citizens want China to reclaim its ancient role of international dominance. But is China ready to “lead the world?” Has it reached the stage where it can set the international tone, take the central role on global issues and provide preeminent guidance toward the future? To many the answer might be “yes”, but as the foundations of the powerhouse economy are actually weaker than they seem, that assessment may be premature.
Interesting and important China related facts you should care about—from China’s service sector growth to the drastic increase of e-sports players and their audience. You may also care about the country’s new fusion reactor setting a new record in July, and that international sewage and water treatment companies are set to chase big opportunities because the central government has pledged to lay 126,000 kilometers of new sewage pipes by 2020, enough to circle the globe three times. Plus, unknown to most, the Middle Kingdom has quietly grown into a cannabis superpower with half of the world’s legal cannabis cultivation, which is used in textiles and pharmaceuticals.
For foreigners, doing business in China is tempting but challenging. Aside from all the difficulties of language, culture and social conventions, the most difficult challenge is understanding local laws and regulations in order to proactively protect your company’s operations and assets. Dan Harris, an attorney at his Seattle-based law firm Harris Bricken, has been helping clients navigate China’s legal landscape for almost 15 years. Since 2006, he has co-authored the China Law Blog, which delivers practical knowledge of Chinese law as it impacts on business. In this interview, Harris discusses legal issues important to companies doing business in China, including compliance, corruption and IP protection.
China led the world technologically in the early 15th century, yet Europe surpassed it overnight. How did this come about? Maverick economist Deirdre McCloskey offers an answer in her work. Although in her youth she fell under the sway of socialist economists, she brings an iconoclasts’ view to her subject believing it is wrong to limit the achievements of humanity to academic theories concerned solely with maximization of utility. Her latest book, Bourgeois Equality, is the concluding volume in a trilogy that seeks to explain “The Bourgeois Era,” which she believes laid the basis for the material and spiritual wealth enjoy by the modern world.
Although China’s official GDP for the first two quarters and industrial growth exceeded expectations, the industrial economy has not yet bottomed out, according to the latest CKGSB study. Led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, the study shows that overcapacity remained at a historical high in the second quarter, and product and cost prices continued to rise, while production stayed flat. Meanwhile, the gap between the BSI of state-owned enterprises and that of private enterprises kept widening. The latest BSI findings show that the structural problems of China’s industrial economy remain a significant concern.
Historians say that paper currency was invented by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty. Today, their descendants are taking the lead again: Young Chinese are abandoning cash. Shop anywhere in China–from a grand shopping mall to a small street vendor–and you can use your smartphone to pay. Of course, the wide acceptance of smartphones and 4G internet is one thing, the rise of fintech firms like Ant Financial is another. Yet to seriously phase out cash, authorities and professionals are pursuing something more than just QR codes: digital currencies based on blockchain technology. Despite the cracking down on unfavorable operations like ICOs, China is studying blockchain in a rather serious way.
Is it true that consumers nowadays need less stuff? Statistics show that in the West at least, the long shopping spree is ending—people are spending more of their disposable income on recreational activities like travel and dining in good restaurants, but less on buying things. Even in China, a country that many thought to have just entered a material era, people have shown less interest in buying new things. What on earth is “minimalism”? What are the reasons behind this trend? For business, minimalism undoubtedly presents a challenge. What can you sell to people who’ve decided they don’t want more?