Oct 062014
can China save the world?

Three weeks ago Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba triumphantly listed on the US NASDAQ stock market with a valuation of over two hundred billion dollars. It was a strong announcement to the world that Chinese companies have arrived as global competitors.

A week later telecommunications vendor Huawei announced it was buying British internet of things darling Neul for £25 million as part of its proposed £1.3 billion investment the UK technology sector.

Quietly last week Another NASDAQ listed Chinese company, computer manufacturer Lenovo completed its purchase of IBM’s mid market server business.

Lenovo’s deal follows its purchase of IBMs PC division in 2005 that saw the iconic Thinkpad laptops become Lenovo products. Both deals tell us much about where the two companies see their respective futures.

China’s great economic pivot

These three big announcements by Chinese companies show how the economy of the Peoples’ Republic of China is pivoting just as other East Asian countries have over the past fifty years.

Leading the example of the East Asian pivot is Japan who pioneered the model of starting as a cheap manufacturing labor source then steadily ground its way up the global value chain to being the leader in many fields.

That model was copied by Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. It hasn’t worked everywhere as countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have been caught in the ‘middle income trap’ that has seen their economies not move into the higher brackets.

Racing up the development curve

China’s mission with over a billion mouths to feed and keep politically content is to avoid the middle income trap and move into the higher brackets. With an aging population it has to do this far quicker than its successful neighbours.

While Huawei along with car manufacturer Great Wall and white goods vendor Haier are following that established Japanese model, albeit rapidly accellerated, Lenovo and Alibaba are following radically different paths.

Alibaba has the benefit of catering to a billion strong domestic market that’s leapfrogging the west in technology adoption. This gives the company a firm foundation for its global operations.

With Lenovo, the sweeping up of the US technology sector’s crumbs is a strategy that sees them buy immediate market share and develop a global position that would take it another generation to do so under the Japanese model of organic expansion which companies like Honda, Toyota and Sony pioneered.

The task ahead for the Chinese economy in moving up the economic value chain is immense and not without huge political, business and social risks. However as the economy ages, it’s a journey the country’s business and political leaders have to make.

Recently China watcher Patrick Chovanec spoke on the Chinese pivot and warned that the changes will have major ramifications for the world economy, particularly for the commodity exporters — notably  Brazil, Australia and China — who provided the raw material for the country’s early economic expansion.

Lenovo, Alibaba and Huawei are leading the change in the Chinese economy and how their strategies work will define business in the mid 21st Century.

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