Blog: Dave LeggettChina thoughts

Dave Leggett | 15 February 2008

There are some pretty bullish forecasts for the Chinese vehicle market around and it’s perhaps interesting to reflect on some of the wider development issues facing that country. The fact that China is becoming a force on the international stage is simply inevitable, due to the country’s growing economic clout. President Bush made it pretty clear yesterday that he doesn’t want to rock Beijing’s boat in the run-up to the Olympics. But just as China’s economy grows, the country’s political development – both internally and in its external relations – will inevitably come under greater scrutiny, from international organisations, foreign governments, NGOs and lobby groups of all sorts.

I didn’t realise that the Chinese did much business with Sudan until this week and, fair play to Mr Spielberg, he very effectively drew attention to some moral issues connected with that. The Chinese, as we know, are big defenders of governments being allowed to do what they like inside their own borders. The reason for that is that they do not want interference in their own affairs from ‘overseas meddlers’.

China is a one-party state, not a liberal democracy, though the Communist tag is now a bit misleading to say the least. There are still five-year plans and the role of the state is huge (though declining), but China is perhaps better summed up as kind of state-directed capitalist autocracy. Western-style democracy threatens to undermine one-party control and China’s elite is generally very wary of any steps that would take China down that road.

They have seen the Soviet Union break up and are focussed on China becoming a regional superpower in Asia (displacing Japan) and also a much bigger player on the international stage where that suits Chinese interests. It’s a unitary, statist model, with some devolvement of authority to big regional interests – that’s a kind of pressure valve, but it’s not Western-style democracy by any means. People get richer and that’s what many people want, food in the belly and a refrigerator in the kitchen, a TV and, yes, maybe a car.

But, and here are a couple of rubs. How widely are the benefits of economic development being spread? Is there a huge underclass of disaffected people being created? And also, for the rapidly growing middle class, are they going to want the kinds of freedoms they increasingly come into contact with elsewhere in the world? Is a free trade union movement going to develop? Could the economy yet turn to custard under political pressures? 

The run-up to the Beijing Olympics is sure to see some more controversy, the Chinese government awkwardly responding to any outside criticisms, perhaps stamping on any internal dissent.

I guess many in the West would like China to grow but stay very stable. And that means keeping it much as it is.

Anyway, as far as the car market goes, there are forecasts that it could grow as far as 15m units by 2015. I’m seeing some guys at JD Power Automotive Forecasting in Oxford later today so I’ll be sure to ask them about their latest thinking. If you want an entertaining read, try Mark Bursa’s latest article for us on Geely (pronounced jeeley). He has some observations on ‘Chinglish’. But Geely does sound like a company with a plan that is going places. And the emergence of the smaller independent OEMs like Geely, Great Wall and BYD in such a short space of time is pretty amazing.

EMERGING MARKETS ANALYSIS: Unwrapping the enigma of China’s Geely


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