Bill Bishop, co-founder of the stock market news website MarketWatch and author of Sinocism, talks about how China’s relationship with the world has changed. In this interview, he shares insights on China’s ascendance to second-largest economy in the world, as well as some of the serious economic challenges it faces today, such as an aging society and rising debt, and the current backlash against globalization. But along with that, he also discusses the many bright spots–the emerging internet economy, for example–and the hazards of getting caught up in what can be a biased and negative news cycle mentality.
A fundamental generational change in attitude is happening: business people in China have started to question lavish banquets with too much bajiu, and new approaches to health and wellness are coming into vogue—particularly among the young, hip and urban. Rising with this trend is a multibillion-dollar fitness and food industry. Fitness apps are being downloaded by the tens of millions, and gyms are popping up almost everywhere you look in major cities. Market researchers predict that the gym, health and fitness clubs industry is to generate $5.81 billion, and that does not include sales of health food, which seems to be a craze all its own.
Baidu, China’s largest internet search engine, is having a hard time after a college student named Wei Zexi died after mistaking an advertisement on Baidu for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information. Baidu was then accused of being “unethical”, failing to clearly delineate paid advertisements from search results. Months later, the Nasdaq listed company reported its worst quarterly earnings. With the increased competition from domestic players like Tencent and Alibaba and the downward pressure on online advertising, which contributes to over 90% of Baidu’s revenue, it is crucial for Baidu to diversify its business.
One could be forgiven for thinking that after purchasing Uber’s China operations, Didi Chuxing—which now boasts over 300 million users and over 80% of China’s market—would be on easy street. But things are never that simple in the Chinese market. Figures have shown Didi is losing users and drivers. Under strict Chinese local governments’ new policies, Didi may face bigger challenges than Uber China. Meanwhile more people cast doubts over its business model. Boasting a sharing economy model, car-pooling, the company now relies more on providing car-hailing services with prices lower than taxis to maintain its scale. Once the subsidies withdrew, users walk away.
Live streaming in China is not new. Even back in 2005 there were live streaming businesses based on the PC, but it was not until 2014 that this industry really started to take off in the Chinese market, as China’s almost 700 million internet users became aware that mobile live-streaming is fun and can even be profitable. China’s internet giant companies have long recognized that live streaming is going to be the new portal to bring in traffic, so just like their competition in other battle fields, Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba have spread their tentacles to live streaming and mapped out their respective businesses.
China’s desire to become an elite football nation is having an impact on and off the pitch. While the national football team still has no way to comfort their weary fans, the government has unveiled grand visions for the game’s development, exhibiting a desire for international prestige and a more consumption-based economy. Although observers say China Soccer League standards have improved, currently the men’s national team languishes 81st in FIFA’s rankings, below Zambia. In contrast to China’s success in many Olympic sports, where a top-down training model has yielded amazing results, football, as a team sport, is less suited to such a model. There is no quick fix.
A common challenge faced by Western tech giants like WeWork and Airbnb: in China there are locally made equivalents already. Yet China is a market hard to ignore. Six years after its founding, WeWork entered the Chinese market and is trying to adapt. Localization happens in every detail, from office design to the hiring of team members. but how will the company win the already very fierce competition among the co-working spaces in China? With a more global network, or a more experienced team in the shared-office? How will it deal with the Chinese government?
China’s large and still growing population, accompanied by rising household wealth and rapid increases in healthcare spending, has transformed China into the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical market. In 2015, overall pharmaceutical sales in mainland China totaled more than $115 billion, placing China behind only the United States ($330 billion). With a population of over 1.3 billion, the sheer size of the market all but guarantees that the Chinese market will continue to grow despite the problems faced by the healthcare system. “Healthcare is the one market where the market size equals the population,” says Kent Kedl.
China has achieved almost miraculous advancement in a mere 30 years, but at the same time is beset with a host of structural problems and contradictions that it must grapple with, especially as economic growth begins to slow. In this interview, Kroeber, the author of China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know, a comprehensive introduction to China’s rise from an economic backwater in the early 1980s to the world’s second-largest economy, offers his analysis to CKGSB Knowledge on how China got here, where it might be headed, and how to understand the changes and implications.
One of the topics favored most by Chinese tech people is which city, or region, in China will become the next “Silicon Valley”. While observers have not gotten bored of guessing which one will be the next “unicorn” company, those who are really in startup companies have realized the fact that the China startup scene has peaked: many companies have died, using up the money given by investors but keeping no loyal users at all. Read our story about China’s startup bubbles and find how these bubbles, blown up by ambitious yet empty ideas, business plans and investors’ ignorance, finally fall and burst.