The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is “a fusion of technologies” that blurs the lines “between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. This fusion of so many fields will ultimately see 4IR change the world far more fundamentally than the first three industrial revolutions. Any analysis of the many technological breakthroughs that now define this new 4IR business world is incomplete at best if it misses the China factor. At the dawn of the 4IR era, China is much better positioned than in the past to seize the opportunities offered by an industrial transformation.
A look at the China data you should care about–from China’s investment in an electric car factory in Germany to the 25,000 tons of avocado imports from Latin America. Plus, a look at China’s first homemade passenger jet, the C919, which took its maiden flight in May and seeks to compete with Boeing and Airbus; and technology giant Tencent’s USD 316 billion market cap, which makes it the ninth-largest listed company globally. More international trades are set to grow in the future: One Belt and Road Forum China signed more than 270 agreements with 68 countries and international organizations as China pushes its Silk Road revival.
Although official data for first-quarter GDP and industrial growth exceeded expectations, the industrial economy has not yet bottomed out, according to the latest CKGSB survey. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, shows that overcapacity remains at a historical high, both in terms of its prevalence and severity in Q1 2017. As in 2016 Q4, rising costs have been the driving force behind rising prices. Among firms with product costs inflation above 5%, cost rises were the most prominent. Meanwhile, the advantage of state-owned firms over private firms has increased in recent quarters.
HNA Group is the most acquisitive Chinese conglomerate in China. Through acquisitions, the group quadrupled its size and made its debut on the Fortune 500 list as the world’s 464th biggest firm in terms of revenue. And it aims higher: becoming one of the top 10 by 2025 with holdings of $5–6 trillion in assets—more than double the assets held today by JPMorgan, the biggest bank in the United States. What is its business model like? How did the Group, which started as a small regional airline company in China’s southernmost island, with only two jets, make it? What are the risks behind the buying spree?
While e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba continue to rise, many physical-store retailers are dying off. MINISO is a rare exception, however. Founded in 2013 by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu and Japanese designer Miyake Junya, MINISO has exploded into an emerging business empire with 1,800 stores in 40 countries, delivering an eclectic collection of affordable, curated goods, challenging the physical retail naysayers. What is the key to MINISO’s success? Through careful consideration of the customer and a unique aesthetic, it manages to do what online stores cannot: Deliver an experience.
Under the banner industrial policy “Made in China 2025”, China seeks to replace the advanced foreign manufactured goods that it has long relied upon with domestically-produced goods. But the effort is spooking the foreign business community, and the plan may not address China’s most genuine needs. Precise details of the implementation of the grand policy are only now beginning to emerge. For Chinese companies, the real long-term impact of the plan is at best unclear. But for foreign companies, although there will be business opportunities in the short-term, the plan as a whole presents big challenges to their future in China.
Foreign Direct Investment has been an incredibly important catalyst for China’s economic development, bringing in the capital, technology and know-how that made China the world’s factory. But China is no longer so fresh and attractive to foreign investors as return on assets is falling. FDI to China increased 3.9% on the year to RMB 731.8 billion in the first 11 months of 2016—the 2015 expansion was 5.6%. Besides, increasing labor costs have become a heavy burden to foreign enterprises, especially manufacturers, who can cut costs by moving to Southeast Asia.
Chinese companies have been on a buying spree around the globe over the past two years. 2016 witnessed a record level of Chinese outbound mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, with 932 deals worth over $220 billion taking place, an increase of 246% compared to 2015, according to PwC China. However, the surge in outbound investments has brought concerns from both Chinese authorities and recipient countries; the latter are becoming more cautious regarding the presence of Chinese capital in large-scale deals in key industries. Affected by such concerns and tighter government scrutiny, the number of M&A deals might not be as numerous in 2017 as in 2016, but the trend will not stop.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, US President Donald Trump took the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With that failure, the spotlight has now fallen on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed trade deal among 16 countries in the Asia Pacific region which is widely seen as a Chinese initiative and a way of pushing back against US influence in Asia. However, compared to TCC, the RCEP has a much narrower scope and labor, environment, IP, competition policy, issues screaming for attention will not be significantly discussed. Meanwhile, TPP is not completely down without the US: Strong incentives for the TPP or a “TPP-lite” will remain.
“Innovation” is difficult, yet the word itself is so overly used that the meaning of it has become hollow. Some people consider being “innovative” as being “lucky.” Yet for Clay Christensen, a business professor at Harvard, innovation is about finding the “jobs that need to be done” in our lives. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, he argues that companies should not take the task as akin to gambling. Instead, companies should adopt a more focused, process-oriented approach of finding the “jobs” that customers need to do in their lives, and then create products that make those jobs easier.