Everyone Wants A Piece Of Vast Chinese Market

While musing over the richness of human languages recently, I got to wondering how long it would be until we were all basically speaking the same tongue, and what it might sound like. English? Mandarin? Spanish? In any event, it is to be hoped that peaceful commerce will be the catalyst for the evolution of how we communicate, and some stories in recent days indicate how frenzied the rush to do commerce in the Chinese market has become.

Perhaps too frenzied in more ways than one, in fact, suggests a story by Simon Rabinovitch in Financial Times. You may have seen reports, such as this one in the Los Angeles Times, about angry mobs in Beijing pelting an Apple store after the company said the iPhone 4S had sold out. Well, reports Rabinovitch,a glitzy mall across the street was bathed in silence, with just a handful of shoppers hunting for bargains.”

It seems that as fast as China is minting Western-style consumers, it can’t keep up with the builders who are throwing up “cavernous” new malls. It’s a calculated risk, dependent somewhat on changing attitudes.



“Whatever money I make, I spend ... we don’t have to worry about saving for old age like our parents,” says a 24-year-old jewelry shop manager.

In a report that focuses on Apple’s intentions to improve working conditions at its factories in China, the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica E. Vascellaro and Owen Fletcher report that internal demand for iPhones, iPads and Macs “reached such a fever pitch in 2011 that some 40,000 people were visiting its Beijing and Shanghai stores each day.”

That’s because the Internet is exploding in China, with more than 500 million users (53 million of them came on board in the last year), of which about half use weibos -– a Twitter-like microblogging platform that enable people to circumvent censorship, reports Marianne Barriaux in Physorg.com this morning.

"Chinese authorities are more and more concerned about the Internet because it's such a decentralized medium and so difficult to control," according to China Media Project researcher David Bandurski. "Since 2005, the whole focus of control of information has shifted from traditional media to the Internet."

The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati and Loretta Chao reported Friday that Google ishiring engineers, salespeople and product managers in China and will also roll out new services for Chinese consumers -– particularly “aiming to capitalize on its fast-growing Android operating system for mobile devices, online-advertising and product-search services.”

Google pulled its search engine out of China two years ago in a dispute with authorities over censorship. It’s “decision to reverse course and invest more in China is a ‘pragmatic’ one,” Daniel Alegre, Google's top executive in Asia, tells the Journal.

Alegre may be overestimating the size of the current Android market in China, according toPC Mag’s Daniel Murphy, but Google evidently feels it can’t afford to turn its back on the future.

“With Android tapped to fill even more of China's devices -- especially now that the country's overtaken the U.S. as the top smartphone market for volume -- how long until Google's potential business opportunities trump its principles?” Murphy concludes.

China is, of course, feeling the pinch of the global economic slowdown just like everybody else. Bloomberg Newsreports today that its economy “probably grew the least in 10 quarters in the last three months of 2011 and may cool further as export demand slumps and officials prolong a campaign against property bubbles.”

GDP rose 8.7% from a year earlier, the slowest pace since the second quarter of 2009, according to the median forecast of 26 economists. By comparison, though, the U.S. GDP increased at an annual rate of 1.8% in the third quarter, the last for which figures are available, according to the Commerce Department.

Procter & Gamble, as is its wont, saw this coming before most mortal companies; China is, after 23 years of effort, its second-biggest market after the U.S. Seven out of ten consumers use at least one of its products, but that means that there are 400 million others to be wooed, according to a piece in China Daily.

"There are many opportunities for P&G to drive its brands deeper into China's rural areas," says Christopher Hassall, P&G’s global external relations officer. "We've expanded our reach by working with the distributors and sub-distributors to widen distribution in rural and remote areas."

For the record, Chinese is spoken by about 1.1 billion people -– about 20% of the world’s population -- and nearly three times the 350 million who claim English as their native tongue. Spanish is No. 3 with about 300 million. Remember those debates over whether to take Spanish or French? Throw Mandarin 101 into the mix.

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