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China’s rising global brands: how far can they go?

It’s no secret that a significant share of the goods we use in our lives are produced in China. On average 15 to 20 percent of imports come from the Middle Kingdom. Most people assume that, while these goods are manufactured or assembled in China, the designing and branding is actually done elsewhere. Now, however, a growing amount of “China’s” companies are offering their own products to foreign customers. Not many Chinese brands could be called truly global, but the trend is changing. Whether it is Haier’s mini-fridge aimed at American college students or a new Xiaomi smartphone, these Chinese branded consumer goods are appearing in our daily lives more and more often. What kind of Chinese companies operate outside their country? What are the differences among them? And most importantly, how will this trend continue to develop and what Chinese companies are successfully competing with their international peers in the global market?


Adopted in 1999, then revised in 2006 China’s Go Out Policy (走出去战略),, is boosting Chinese companies ambitions abroad. Despite being vaguely worded, the document still represents a State-level desire to use business ties to increase China’s global soft power. It mostly mentions investing, but another very important point of the document encourages businesses to familiarize European and American (sic) consumers with Chinese brands.


There have been 3 stages of Chinese companies’ expansion into foreign markets: in late 90’s and early 2000, after 2007 and since 2012. In the first case, companies such as Lenovo, Haier, ZTE and Huawei were looking for opportunities to expand their businesses abroad. In the second stage, money-loaded Chinese corporations rescued or swooped on tumbling foreign business during the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). Geely and Sany, for example, spent relatively little money on gaining valuable knowledge and IP.


Most recently businesses, such as Dalian Wanda group feel the danger of a slowdown in Chinese economy, especially in the property market, and are looking at ways to diversify or expand their portfolio of investments beyond China’s borders.


Here China Brain provides a selection of brief case studies of Chinese brands that are pursuing various paths to global success and offer a good starting point for those who are exploring this topic in detail.


White Goods



Haier is the largest white goods manufacturer in the world in terms of volume, and in 2008 it became world’s largest refrigerator manufacturer. Shandong-based SOE’s CEO Zhang RuiMin has been named as one of the most innovative entrepreneurs globally. The multinational’s success, and even its name, can be traced back to its joint venture with German refrigerator manufacturer Liebherr in 1980’s. The company has presence in all continents, and has acquired competitors in Italy, New Zealand and the US. Haier’s revenue in 2013 was over ¥62 billion ($9.98 billion), while its profits surpassed ¥2 billion ($321 million) mark. Its produces a wide range of goods including air conditioners, wine coolers, washing machines, computers and even mobile phones. Haier is and will remain a successful company due to  its strong presence in both developing and developed markets, multiple R&D centres in countries, such as in Germany, and ability to identify consumer needs, as it did in the US with compact refrigerators and electric wine coolers.


Midea Group


The Guangdong-based group is a private, white goods manufacturer, producing washing machines, air conditioners, kitchen appliances, and water heaters, as well as heat pump components. The group went public last year, though its subsidiary Midea Holdings, whose revenue in 2012 reached ¥68 billion ($10.95 billion), while its Net Profit was ¥4.3 billion ($692 million).  Although the group is the third largest home appliances manufacturer in the world, it still remains mostly focused on developing economies. It sends a quarter of its goods to the Philippines, India, and Brazil. Midea has international production bases in Vietnam and Belarus, and has made acquisitions in South America. It used to position itself as cheap goods producer, but recently has started heavily investing in R&D in preparation to expand into new markets.





Huawei became the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world in 2012; it is also the third largest smartphone manufacturer globally. The company has R&D centres in more than 20 countries, and more than 40% of Huawei’s employees are engaged in R&D operations. In 2013, Huawei, despite slowing building telecommunication networks market growth, has managed to increase its revenue up to a record level of ¥239 billion ($38.47 billion), while the Net Profit was ¥21 billion ($3.31 billion).


Huawei has partnerships with most of the serious players in the telecommunication business. Just to name a few: BT, TeliaSonera, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Bell Canada and Motorola. In order to promote brand recognition, Huawei has been sponsoring cultural events (Jonas Brothers’ US tour), sports teams (Arsenal, Paris PSG, Dortmund Borrusia). The company has stated a revenue target of $70 billion for 2018. It is also expected to profit from growing 4G networks in China, and should see growing smartphone sales.


In the past Huawei has been accused of copyright infringement (though always denied it), but the most serious and ongoing issue for the company’s expansion in foreign markets is fear of its links with the CCP and PLA. U.S. Congress has even labelled Huawei as a “national security threat”, while Australia and Canada denied it the chance to build their communication networks due to espionage fears.




ZTE is a Shenzhen-based telecommunications corporation and the 7th largest smartphone producer in the world. It is planning to ship 60 million smartphones in 2014, 40% of which will be supporting 4G technologies.


For 2013, ZTE posted profit of ¥1.36 billion ($219 million), but its revenues had fallen down to ¥75.2 billion ($12.11 billion). More than half of the sales came from outside China.


ZTE applies for lots of invention-related patents. In 2011 and 2012, it was the company, which applied for the biggest amount of patents in the world. The company is also expected to profit from growing 4G networks. In 2012, ZTE has posted heavy losses, and has therefore started focusing on projects with a higher profit margin.


ZTE’s expansion abroad was also met with some controversies, though the allegations were not as severe as in Huawei’s cases and were mostly related to bribery and corruption.


Construction/Urban Machinery.

Two Goliaths of this industry are Sany and Zoomlion, supplying everything from excavators and cranes to road sweepers and garbage trucks. The years of construction growth in China have been good to these companies in their domestic market.




In the case of Sany, only about 7% of its current sales are international, but this is expected to increase as the company targets international expansion. The company already has manufacturing plants in over 5 countries, including the US, Brazil and Germany, and has also set up a R&D centre in the US. It also recently acquired Putzmeister, a noted German pump manufacturer. It was the first time in history, when a Chinese corporation bought a German Mittelstand company.


Zoomlion has acquired Powermole, a construction equipment manufacturer in Britain; CIFA, an Italian concrete machinery manufacturer and M-Tec, a German dry mortar equipment producer. Zoomlion sells its production all over the world, but its crucial market remains China, which accounted for 87% of its total revenue (¥38.54 billion, $6.2 billion), while their recorded overseas sales only reached ¥2.79 billion ($449 million). However, both Sany’s and Zoomlion’s near future seems not as bright as before, since the latter’s financial results indicate a serious slowdown in the Chinese construction market. It is highly likely that both these companies will look for more growth in other emerging markets close to China.




Some of the world’s largest engineering companies are Chinese and have already completed numerous overseas projects. One company aggressively expanding overseas is Beijing Capital Group, which focuses on water and wastewater projects. The company already has international projects in Malaysia, the Philippines, Iran, and also the UK.



CREC was the largest construction company in the world in 2012and it has built numerous high-speed rail lines in China. Now it is looking to extend the network beyond China`s borders through its subsidiary, China Overseas Engineering Group (COVEC), notably to Thailand and Myanmar, such as the African Union building in Addis Ababa. COVEC has also built roads and had other projects in Africa and South East Asia. It tried to enter the European market but failed to finish a project in Poland.





Geely has been aggressively expanding overseas in recent years. The company became a saviour of troubled Western automotive manufacturers by buying Volvo from Ford in 2010, and in 2012 acquiring The London Taxi Company, which was in administration. Both companies can expect a significant investment from Geely, especially Volvo, which will receive more than $11 billion. Although there were reported tensions between Swedish and Chinese executives, he Gothenburg-based company will introduce its first car model developed under the Chinese ownership this year , and in 2017 will start rolling out further models.


Geely’s plans with Black Cab are less ambitious, as it is a much more niche product. A factory in Britain is producing cars for the local market, while the plant near Shanghai is selling cars globally.


There are factories in CIS and ASEAN countries, assembling knockdown kits,but Geely does not own these factories and does not operate them.


Political turmoil in Egypt and Ukraine, both important export markets will cause serious losses for the Chinese group.


Besides these older establishments, Geely’s marque Emgrand has been officially launched in the UK, Italy and Brazil recently.




Chery’s cars are also assembled in more than 10 countries from knockdown kits, while selling its production in over 80 countries in the world. In Iran and Argentina, Chery owns production bases.


Chery has been living off the Chinese government’s subsidies in recent years. However, it has started a restructuring plan and will cancel unsuccessful marques.


It presented its first Qoros marque model, one of the few Chinese cars to receive a top, five-star safety rating in NCAP tests, which was born out of partnership with Israeli corporation. On top of that Chery has a joint venture with Jaguar-Land Rover. The company has recently announced its plant is undergoing test runs and production should be started at the end of the year.


Consumer Electronics



Even some insiders now hardly consider Lenovo as “Chinese” due to its multinational culture, embedded by the CEO’s global push. Lenovo is the second largest supplier of personal computers and the fifth largest producer of smartphones in the world. The corporation made the global headlines in 2005, after it acquired IBM’s personal computer branch. The company thinks its biggest, untapped potential lies in smartphones and tablets sales. Therefore it recently has announced a series of new tablets in order to challenge the industry’s hegemons – Samsung and Apple. The Chinese corporation has also strengthened itself, by buying Motorola Mobility from Google.


Property Management

Wanda Group


Wanda is the biggest property developer and operator in China. It owns shopping malls, cinemas, hotels and entertainment establishments. Recently, the company has started making large-scale acquisitions abroad. First, by buying American cinema theatres operator - AMC Theatres, the Dalian-based conglomerate became the largest cinema operator in the world. Later the Chinese company bought Sunseeker, a luxury yachts builder in Britain. The company reported ¥186.6 billion ($30.04 billion) revenue in 2013. It was the eighth year in a row with the corporation’s revenue growing by more than 30%. Wanda Group aims at growing the number of Chinese tourists abroad and is riding the trend of wealthy Chinese making investments into properties abroad. The company has already announced its plans to develop a five-star hotel and apartments in central London. A similar project in New York will be made public later this year, with 5-star hotels in in more than 10 cities around the globe. Hotels will be under Wanda’s own brand, a new field for the corporation, since it operates hotels under franchises.




UnionPay is the equivalent of Visa in China. Due to the fact, that it is almost the only bank card used in China, UnionPay recently overtook Visa as the world’s most used debit card by volume. Following an increasing amount of travelling Chinese shoppers, UnionPay is expanding its operations abroad. For example, in Taiwan it is treated as any other bankcard and can be used almost everywhere. In the UK or US, UnionPay can be used in a lot of ATMs and department stores. Since China has such a burgeoning middle class, who increasingly travel overseas and who spend big sums on consumer products while on the road, UnionPay can be expected to see its income from foreign countries grow.


Although Chinese banks and financial institutions are among the biggest in the world, their expansion abroad is quite slow and unambitious. Only recently ICBC received permission to acquire the US operations of Bank of East Asia Canada. However, there have been repeated announcements from Chinese bankers that they intend to expand abroad.


As it is clear, Chinese companies can and are successfully competing in foreign markets. Cheap acquisitions of troubled Western enterprises awarded Chinese companies with long-desired technical knowledge and access to markets. On top of that, highly skilled Chinese engineers, managers and designers are returning home from abroad, serving to increase Chinese companies’ understanding and competitiveness overseas. The government in Beijing will provide assistance. Chinese companies are moving up the value chain and developing more expensive consumer goods. With the help of all the above-mentioned reasons, SOEs and private companies will be able to increase their market share abroad.


Challenges, like increasing brand awareness abroad, improving quality of the production, finding ways to enter the market are serious. Not all are guaranteed success but every company needs to be aware and alert to the ambitions of Chinese companies in their sectors. China Brain will continue to explore this topic in detail. 




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