Four years ago in a post dedicated to the Chinese market I wrote that over the last three decades the People’s Republic of China had progressed from being a backward agricultural economy to a world economic power, becoming the greatest exporter in the world alongside the USA, and also the second greatest importer (behind the USA).
Since then China has continued to grow, reaching an exceptionally high global innovation index. Between 2015 and 2017, for example, it spent 24 billion dollars more than the United States on 5G technology alone. An exorbitant amount, especially if we think that no other country in the world has this spending capacity, and that China has been able to continue such investments and growth rates over time.
After the staggering entry of the Chinese economy into our economies (for example, the acquisition of the robot manufacturer Kuka by Midea, a Chinese giant in the household appliances sector), many countries have felt the need to take steps to introduce measures aimed at restraining this economic power. At the end of last year, for example, Germany introduced a law that will make the acquisitions of its strategic companies by non-European companies more difficult. Other countries, such as the United States, Canada, France and Italy itself, have boosted the control mechanisms on these operations given the concern that, in addition to the sale of strategic assets, there will also be a transfer of sensitive technologies and know-how.
My question to you is:
how do you think we should deal with a massive economic power such as China in its current state?
I have asked myself this several times and I have tried to come up with some answers.
First and foremost, it is vital to remember that
China is not an option among others, rather an inevitable market. And it has been for quite some time.
The measures devised and implemented to restrain its power (like the ones I mentioned in this post or like the renowned US customs duties) I’m afraid have come rather too late.
I mean that the People’s Republic of China already holds a world economic power, to the extent where the introduction of measures aimed at somehow trying to restrain it is a bit like wanting to block a few drops of water when an overflowing river is heading your way.
So is it worth simply signing agreements like the recent memorandum signed by Italy on the New Silk Road? Perhaps so. On the condition, however, that it will do any good. Because as I said, in my mind actions such as this should have been drawn up and implemented a long time ago. Today I am afraid they are insufficient.
There is however another aspect to be taken into account.
My perception is that the general mentality of the Chinese population is changing,
acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that it no longer has to focus solely and exclusively on growth, and therefore manufacturing indiscriminately at the expense of everything and everyone, and then selling on a global scale, but it has to think more about its citizens, their health and their lifestyle.
Nowadays the Chinese travel much more than they used to, they come to study in Western countries, they enter our factories and, therefore, have increased opportunities to get a first hand view on what happens outside the Chinese borders and what our culture is all about. Let’s think, for instance, about the topic of occupational health and safety. An aspect that has imposed and continues to impose specific restrictions, which impact factors such as manufacturing speeds and the cost of our products.
My impression is that it is the Chinese (in increasing numbers) who, I am not saying they will create actual blocking restrictions, but may introduce regulations on aspects such as health and safety. Also because increasingly more western enterprises which have put in place precise codes of ethics which must also be complied with by their suppliers (including those from the Far-East).
So it could be this change in mentality that will lead China to share the rules of the game more often with its western partners.