By Salma Nawlo
Most people take pride in where they come from. The Brits have their Regal Court and the Australians have their crocodiles. In America, not only do people congregate as one to contemplate the right for independence early in July, but also on separate occasions, the Irish-Americans maintain St.Patrick’s day in March and the German-Americans feast over their Bratwurst in October. Therefore, it should behoove anyone with an observed ethnicity to understand the Chinese predicament; it is presumptuous to assume that the Chinese are otherwise indifferent to their distinct history and culture.
Consumers all over the world read the words “Made in China” and think nothing of it, except perhaps that the product may not be of the best quality and this is especially true within the electronic and business industry. Otherwise, if the label on the item is Western by design, for example, “Apple,” then it is automatically considered American-made and a rather prestigious item to own, despite the fact that a skilled, Chinese migrant worker endured endless working hours making it in a factory.
Well, what would happen if the same skilled worker makes a similar product, but the label is Chinese? Would it be appreciated the same way? The availability of technology and resources is leading China to appreciate its capability to build their own brand names, and with some nationalistic acknowledgement on top of it, the nation is heading into the direction of becoming the next super power of consumer goods.
“The growth of the Chinese middle class is one of the main economic stories of today and the next generation. It is a long-term phenomenon,” said Darius McDermott, from Chelsea Financial Services.
Long-term phenomenon is right. As China grows economically, it is almost inevitable that the world will witness China becoming an avid competitor to high quality international products, as it endeavours efforts to manufacture and distribute new brands into the local market. Recently, TCL Corporation, a Chinese electronics company launched the world’s largest LCD screen (110 inches) and it is predicted to replace the now popular 108-inch Panasonic Japanese model.
The Communist leadership is buoyed with confidence, pride and sense of achievement now more than ever before. It recently issued a decree to replace all Japanese giant screens in the Great Hall of the People with Chinese brands just before the all-important National People’s Congress’ annual session.
It may seem as an unfair assumption, but for now, this is only a marketing strategy implemented to prove credibility and quality. While the Chinese are paying attention to manufacturing high-end goods that both national and international shoppers will eventually recognize easily, they still use Western symbols or forms of advertisement to elevate the value of their products.
“To fully sell under our name isn’t a question of technology but of marketing,“ said TCL chairman, Li Dongsheng. “Because if we promote a new brand, our own brand, it would take time. If there is already a local established partner, using their brand is quicker. For our company, the most important is bigger sales tuning into greater revenue,” he added.
While brand-building is a new trade in the Chinese market, the customers within cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou see it as a top priority.
“This is a big hurdle, especially in autos. (The domestic brands) are almost non-existent in large cities like Shanghai or Beiing because no one wants to be seen going lower than a Japanese or a Korean brand,” said James Roy, a senior analyst with China Market Research Group.
While the current concentration for Chinese automakers to expand globally is ongoing, a report by IHS Automotive forecasts that annual sales in China will grow by 74% to more than 30.6 million vehicles a year. Possibly envisaging prosperous rewards from switching into the Chinese market, former Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury, is set to become head of design and assume responsibility for the aesthetics of Geely, a budding Chinese automobile brand.
So, what does this all mean for the average international consumer? What does this mean for the current dichotomy between China’s rich and poor? The emerging middle class in Chinese towns and cities is watching the rise of Chinese brands with awe, realizing that not only can their country produce high-quality products, but it can also display a level of technological modernity and sophistication that boosts patriotic fervour.
“I do think the increasing demand by Chinese consumers for Chinese brands reflects a strong nationalistic pride,” said American economist Dr. Robert Christopher Jones, head of Florida Economic Advisors LLC, a full-service economic consultancy. “China is manufacturing high quality components of technology and machinery… within the next five years, the words “Made in China” will have a much stronger global perception than they have had in the past.”
A country with the largest population in the world, China is also likely to become the world’s largest consumer market. However, its quest for brilliance and exhibition of greater patriotism is being perceived as a threat by some in the West. Many critics suggest it may somehow backfire in a spiteful manner toward the Western leadership.
“The key insight for me is that rather than pro-democracy feelings increasing as China grows economically, it is a radical, shrill nationalism that is emerging,” said Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard’s Center for Euoropean Studies. “There is an enthusiastic embrace of the economic benefits of the market but resentment of Western cultural hegemony.”
Ferguson sees this nationalistic agenda as the “beginning of a world empire” much similar to the German ambitions one hundred years ago. The American academic even goes to question whether or not the “transition from West to East” will happen in “a way that is peaceful, non-violent.” Is this a rather pessimistic view? Could there not be great fortunes that arise for the West, as well as from China itself? American economist, Dr. Jones, seems to think so.
Optimistic about the outcome of a wealthier, economically stronger China, he said: “I actually think it opens up tremendous opportunity for the US to penetrate the market. We should be encouraging the economic development and wealth creation in China.”
Only time will tell what the long-term implications are going to be but the start of the Year of the Dragon seems to be an eye-catching one across the globe. If anything, we can be sure that as many of the world’s most advanced nations continue to invest heavily in order to develop their economic infrastructure, China will continue to prosper. If China invests in itself, it seems like a win-win for everyone in the near future.