China has been involved in Africa for decades, with total investments reaching $3.5 trillion by the end of 2015, nearly seven times the 2007 amount. Over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating there, handling 12% of Africa’s industrial production. Now, in addition to the traditional large construction projects, Chinese firms are also getting involved in retail markets like smartphone and home appliances. As China’s momentum in Africa has picked up, so too has the need to expand beyond economic involvement. A key event happened in July 2017, when China dispatched military personnel to set up its first overseas base in Djibouti, the small but strategically-placed country on the Gulf of Aden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thirty years ago, there was such nationalist angst in the United States over Japanese buyouts of American companies that Hollywood even made a movie about it. In Ron Howard’s 1986 comedy Gung Ho, the fictional Assan Motors Corporation swoops in to buy an idled auto plant in a desperate Pennsylvania company town. The film was a comedy and of course ended with cooperation prevailing and the plant being saved. There is an obvious parallel with the situation today with the US agonizing over Chinese investments in a remarkably similar way to how it worried about Japanese takeovers in the 1980s.
Huawei is one of only a few Chinese companies that has become truly global, deriving more revenue abroad than at home. Long a telecom equipment provider, Huawei shifted its focus to consumer devices and took only five years to become the second most profitable Android smartphone maker and the third largest in terms of production. How did the company manage to do that, given that the smartphone industry is highly competitive? And smartphones are only the highest-profile part of the sprawling telecom giant. With over 170,000 employees across the globe, what is the company’s management system like and what could we learn from Huawei’s model?
On the morning of June 24, 2016, China woke up to witness an unexpected drama unfolding half a world away. The previous day, millions of UK citizens had voted on whether the UK should remain in the European Union, and all opinion polls, betting and market expectations pointed firmly towards ‘Remain.’ But as the early results came in, the startling prospect of Brexit became a reality. Some people think “Brexit has indeed diminished Beijing’s hopes of treating the UK as a strong advocate for China in the EU”, and there are another voices like “The Chinese… have other ways to penetrate the EU market, for example [through] Greece,” and in a sense they are both right. How will China and the UK’s “Golden Relationship” play out in the Post-Brexit era?
Global trade used to be hailed with no doubt. But today, the international mood for globalization has to a great extent shifted. The deeply-held views on free trade and open access for all, which are at the heart of the globalization trend of recent decades, have been joined by ever-more insistent drum beats of dissent. From Europe and North America particularly, but from other places as well, there are calls for a rollback, for trade restrictions, for sanctions and barriers. There are those in the West who believe that to protect jobs and industries, it is necessary to replace “globalization” with “de-globalization.”
After several decades when most Western governments inclined toward freer and more global trade, the mood seems to be changing. In the US, the presidential candidates have agreed on little but the need to keep a closer eye on trade agreements. In the United Kingdom, the new Prime minister, Theresa May, seems determined to fulfill the British public’s wish to leave the European Union, despite the fact that the pound sterling sank recently to a 168-year low. Skepticism over trade deals seems likely to remain a stubborn presence in most of the mature economies, so what should Chinese companies do to react?