China: Looking for an opportunity offshore

I've been thinking about China more recently. It seems that every ~ 5-7 years the tone/direction changes and I feel that we are in the midst of one of those changes.

A recent article in the WSJ observed:

As China's investment-led economic model shows signs of sputtering, Beijing is looking for ways to turn its state sector into a driver, not a drag on growth. Companies that serve as vehicles of national and Communist party ambition and stand at the commanding heights of the economy are increasingly expected to be market-driven.


This aligns with some of my recent observations. I would assert that we have seen 4 phases of evolution in China over the past ~30 years:


Phase 1: Learning
China invited in multinational companies to the market. Some were burned by loose IP treatment. But, the Chinese market was able to understand how those businesses operated, gain knowledge, and contemplate future investments and moves.


Phase 2: Export
Learning in Phase 1 that the country did not possess an IP advantage that the moment, a strategy focused on China's unique value proposition was needed. At this point in time, that value proposition was low cost. Accordingly, export-driven GDP became the focus.


Phase 3: Nationalism
In Phase 3, the focus turned to building Chinese companies to serve the Chinese market and to participate in exports, if applicable. This led to the rise of companies like Haier, Alibaba, and Huawei to name a few. The tale end of this era included a move away from supporting and partnering with non-Chinese multinationals. It created a stand-off of sorts, that is yet to be fully resolved.


Phase 4: Multinational Chinese companies
I believe we are at the start of this era. This is about Chinese born and based companies, extending the operations offshore (off the mainland). Non-Chinese multinationals that aggressively partner with Chinese multinationals to enable this, will likely reap the benefits on the mainland via a quid-pro-quo of sorts.


Despite a host of structural issues, the future is bright on the mainland. There are opportunities in healthcare, data & analytics, and improving cities to name a few. Those rewards will likely go to those companies that are most aggressive in giving China what they want: an opportunity offshore.

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