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Essential reading to understand modern China

Essential reading to understand modern China

As it is the end of the year, we thought we would share some of the best books that explain modern China from the last couple of years. Some are business focused, some political and some cultural: every topic seems important in understanding China today. The list is by no means comprehensive, but simply some of our favourites.



















Ogilvy, Globalizing in a New Economic...

Ogilvy, Globalizing in a New Economic Reality: Making Chinese Brands Matter Globally
Ogilvy China has just released a research report titled “Globalising in a New Economic Reality: Making Chinese Brands Matter Globally”, the report builds on interviews with 40 CMOs of major Chinese companies and insights from Ogilvy experts in Chinese and global brand management. It underlines key challenges currently facing their overseas expansion and presents 7 principles for building sustainable brands on the global stage.

The main motivation found for Chinese businesses to expand overseas reads the same as everywhere else: growth. About four out of five executives (79%) interviewed cited “new markets for growth” as the primary motivation for entering foreign markets, while domestic competition and the acquisition of advanced tech/skills ranked second (both 32%).



Hoping to expand overseas, half of the interviewees said they preferred building a new presence from scratch rather than acquiring an existing brand, while 30% chose a mix and match combination of both methods.

The full report can be downloaded here

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a framework of regional connectivity. CPEC will not only benefit China and Pakistan but will have positive impact on Iran, Afghanistan, India, Central Asian Republic, and the region in general. Under CPEC, Pak and China have initiated projects of 17,045 MW of electricity, national level modernization of roads and rail infrastructure, new optical fiber connect with China, development and commercialization of Gwadar port and smart port city, 4 urban mass transit projects in major cities and 9 SEZs. The impact on GDP growth rate is expected to rise to 7% by 2020 from 5.2% in 2017.



China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has Significance for the development of the region including:

  • Integrated Transport & IT systems including Road, Rail, Port, Air and Data Communication Channels
  • Energy Cooperatio
  • Spatial Layout, Functional Zones, Industries and Industrial Parks
  • Agricultural Development
  • Socio-Economic Development (Poverty Alleviation, Medical Treatment, Education, Water Supply, Vocational Training)
  • Tourism Cooperation & People to People Communication
  • Cooperation in Livelihood Areas
  • Financial Cooperation
  • Human Resource Development
  • Enhance Security and stability of the region



CPEC Projects







Gwader Port Area



Other Projects



Mass Transit Projects



Provincial Projects



Proposed Special Economic Zones







The Digital Silk Road

The Digital Silk Road

Over the past few years, the world has been abuzz with talk of China’s enormously ambitious $1trn Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - also known as the New Silk Road - that seeks to expand its transportation and energy infrastructure around the world to improve connectivity with the rest of the globe, and perhaps extend both its soft and hard power capabilities.



One of the most important aspects of the strategy, however, has nothing to do with highways, ports or energy. It’s digital and remains relatively unknown. While the New Silk Road refers to a tangible, physical infrastructure network on land and sea across the Eurasian landmass, the Digital Silk Road deals with a largely unseen and in some ways much more abstract infrastructure which goes along with this.



The Digital Silk round will play a substantial role in making infrastructure development more viable and efficient. It will also bring advanced IT infrastructure to the BRI countries such as broadband networks, 4/5G mobile networks, e-commerce hubs and smart cities. The upgrade in infrastructure will allow businesses evolve into digital ones, away from traditional industry. The resulting connectivity will allow SME’s to tap directly into global trading markets, including cross boarder logistics systems.



Chinese companies make their mark

At the forefront of the Chinese digital push are its various telecom companies, who hope to gain global access while at the same time help advance China’s overarching strategic goals. China has also created digital policy frameworks such as the recent Cyber Security Law and Data Protection framework to promote its standards internationally and in particular to countries along BRI.



The Chinese mobile economy is expanding fast as consumers move away from PCs, landline phones and credit cards, and into a smartphone age, including shopping. The five giants of the Chinese internet age – Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, Xiaomi and Didi – are incredible companies, their sheer scale and access to capital means the smallest movements from any one of them move trends. 



China’s rival to GPS

China also intends to extend its coverage of the home grown satellite navigation system (BeiDou) to the 60 plus countries along the BRI by 20220. Currently accurate to around 10m or so (used extensively in China for smartphones, fishing vessels and shared bicycles), the expansion of the satellites network will bring it much closer to the 1m achieved by GPS. Significantly, under military control, the company will allow China to end its dependence on the US GPS network. With BeiDou navigation promising to connect communities currently in a void, many countries have already signed up to embed the technology in infrastructure: Chinese tech giants are no strangers to surmounting the logistical challenges this will bring in installing around developing countries



Security concerns – or not?

Around the world, the expansion of China’s digital footprint has been accompanied by concerns over whether the connections could be used to expand Chinese intelligence efforts or lead to compromises over the privacy of data.



In a world in which connectivity is at an all-time high and trust at an all-time low when Chinese companies enter into a market, it should not be viewed as pure market expansion. These internet giants and telecom companies need to ensure proper data protection and economic data sharing.



The Digital Silk Road is critically important for the sustainable growth of the global economy since it addresses one of the fundamental issues of the 4th Industrial revolution: high speed internet access. Increased connectivity will allow emerging markets to generate data from their businesses, which could potentially become big data in the future. In particular it will be the SME’s along the bath of BRI that will be able to access global markets and improve their operations. What’s clear is that the BRI bridgeheads penetrating its path are digital as well as physical and this will bring larger cyber markets to entrepreneurs allowing them to test and commercialise ideas that originated in small, isolated areas along the route.



Pictorial: Bound Feet Women of China...

Pictorial: Bound Feet Women of China.

A Living History: Bound Feet Women in China

By Jo Farrel,


A selection of images from this long-term project documenting some of the last remaining women in China with bound feet. A tradition that started during the Song Dynasty, foot binding was banned in 1911 but carried on through 1939 when women had the bandages forcibly removed. Although considered just for the elite, the majority of women in this documentation were farm workers from peasant families living in rural areas. Once unbound the feet are disfigured for life with toes broken beneath the souls of the feet.


Closer ties for India & China

Closer ties for India & China

This past weekend Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the two-day long 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, his 4th trip to China since he entered office. This will be India's first participation in the summit as a full-time member of the organization: India, along with Pakistan, became the full-time members during the Astana summit in June 2017.  With 8 members (India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), the SCO represents approximately 42 percent of the world’s population, 22 percent of the worlds land area and 20 percent of global GDP. For the past several years, India and China have been important engines of regional and global economic growth and fostering a strong economic partnership between the two countries, stability-oriented macroeconomic policies and reduced barriers to trade and investment, is seen as a driving force for future growth and to be globally beneficial.



However the two countries have had a rocky relationship over the last few years, but, when it comes to pragmatic matters like economic opportunities and technology, the two have been able to seek common ground. Notable progress has been made through the recent establishment of two IT corridors, allowing Indian tech companies to have free access to the Chinese market and vis a vis for Chinese companies. Earlier in the year, Prime Minister Modi met with President Xi in China: It was a meeting to solidify cooperative bilateral ties between the two. Both parties agree that friendly India-China relationship is important for growth and global peace, such that it promotes a multi-polar globalized world.



India may be skeptical of the broader belt and road plan, in particular The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor but it remains keen to engage in some aspects of it, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the chance to bring Chinese investment into the country. A nation hungry for investment, Modi’s India is keen to find ways to catch up with its richer Asian neighbour. China is India's largest trading partner. As of 2017 the volume of bilateral trade between India & China stands at US$84.5 billion. This figure excludes bilateral trade between India & Hong Kong which stands at another US$34 billion.



Chinese imports from India amounted to $16.4 billion or 0.8% of its overall imports, and 4.2% of India's overall exports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from India to the China were :

  1. Cotton: $3.2 billion
  2. Gems, precious metals, coins: $2.5 billion
  3. Copper: $2.3 billion
  4. Ores, slag, ash: $1.3 billion
  5. Organic chemicals: $1.1 billion
  6. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $958.7 million
  7. Machines, engines, pumps: $639.7lmillion
  8. Plastics: $499.7 million
  9. Electronic equipment: $440 million
  10. Raw hides excluding furskins: $432.7 million


Chinese exports to India amounted to $58.4 billion or 2.3% of its overall exports, and 12.6% of India's overall imports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from China to India were:

  1. Electronic equipment: $16 billion
  2. Machines, engines, pumps: $9.8 billion
  3. Organic chemicals: $6.3 billion
  4. Fertilizers: $2.7 billion
  5. Iron and steel: $2.3 billion
  6. Plastics: $1.7 billion
  7. Iron or steel products: $1.4 billion
  8. Gems, precious metals, coins: $1.3 billion
  9. Ships, boats: $1.3 billion
  10. Medical, technical equipment: $1.2 billion


Ultimately India’s adjustment of policy towards China is a tactical one: it cannot get enough financial support and investment from G7 countries to develop its infrastructure. The OBOR initiative has shown that China has both the willingness to invest and infrastructure development capability India needs. India-China relations will be highly significant to global economics in the next quarter of this century: a narrowing of the current power gap between the two Asian giants will only assist in this.



China's Soft Power Struggles

China's Soft Power Struggles

China’s 19th Party Congress concluded with President Xi Jinping promising a rejuvenated China that wields more influence across the world. This declaration comes as the United States, erratic and unpredictable under Donald Trump, seems too preoccupied with turbulent domestic politics to care much about global engagement. In stark contrast to the West’s inward turn, Xi has defended globalisation and the need for global climate governance, and China is seizing this historic moment to reshape the geopolitical order. However, military and economic prowess are not enough; China is turning increasingly to soft power, with significant ramifications both domestically and internationally.


Under Xi, China has attempted to utilise economic soft power through the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to export Chinese-style economic growth through massive investments in infrastructure. More than 60 countries have signed up.


At the same time, according to David Shambaugh, China is spending more than US $10 billion per year in a soft power push. Programs include academic exchanges and promotion of language and culture. Among the most visible efforts are Confucius Institutes, government-affiliated teaching and research centres often housed in colleges and universities worldwide. Confucius Classrooms are a similar initiative for primary and secondary schools. There are now 1,579 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in operation.


In addition to these efforts, China has encouraged its state-run foreign language news media to circulate a well-managed narrative about the country, and it is clear that Chinese media’s global reach is growing.


News agency Xinhua has more than 160 bureaus worldwide, while CCTV International – recently rebranded as the China Global Television Network – broadcasts in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian. Chinese media have also supported training courses for journalists from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. According to a report about training for Ugandan journalists in China, these efforts focus on building a positive image of China and promote a particular model for media’s role in society.


Even the film industry exhibits elements of China’s soft power strategy. The country’s domestic film consumption market is tightly controlled by a quota system. While China’s box office value totals US $7 billion – the second largest such market in the world – only 34 foreign movies per year are allowed, although exceptions are granted to those co-produced with Chinese studios.


China’s Hollywood ambitions, however, have been tempered by strategic blunders and lagging sales. The proposed US $1 billion acquisition of Dick Clark Productions by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda was blocked by the Chinese government, while the first major movie co-production between American and Chinese studios, The Great Wall underwhelmed audiences and underperformed at the global box office.


More broadly, Chinese entertainment has failed to gain the global popularity of soft cultural exports such as K-pop (South Korea), Anime (Japan), and even Bollywood films (India).


While these exports are not directly connected to geopolitical positioning, they are crucial for building national brands and goodwill. So far, China lacks this dimension, possibly due to the unwillingness of the country’s cultural industry to produce content that is edgy, satirical, or even lightly critical of the government. The country ranks 25th in an index of soft power strength, below smaller Asian countries like South Korea and Singapore.


Within Asia, China’s image is compromised by territorial posturing, while investments benefiting economic elites have led to concerns about the country’s growing influence. In Australia, a recent row over a university lecturer’s comments about Taiwan agitated Chinese students, doing little to soften an external image of China’s defensive posture about Taiwan and Hong Kong. Controversy has also arisen around the alleged control of Chinese students in Australia by the Chinese government.


Given the focus on state-supported public diplomacy and cultural initiatives, there is an apparent element of coercion in China’s approach to soft power. Confucius Institutes have encountered criticism in the West for censorship, discriminatory hiring practices, lack of transparency, and repression of academic freedoms. Responding to such concerns, the University of Chicago, Stockholm University, and McMaster University in Canada are among universities that have shuttered the institutes. More recently, a report from the National Association of Scholars, a politically conservative advocacy group, recommended that all universities in the United States close their Confucius Institutes.


Beyond these challenges, there is a sizable digital gap in China’s push for soft power. There are Chinese equivalents of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but it’s debatable whether any of them have similar global market potential. Slick new websites targeting a young demographic, such as the Chinese language The Paper and the English language Sixth Tone, are attempting to push the boundaries of critical reporting and have had some success, but both are owned by the Shanghai United Media Group, a state-funded company. If these venues provide an editorially independent space for sharing ideas, they may have the potential to attract global viewership.


China’s domestic controls on expression and creativity, particularly as they relate to political sensitivity, limit the country’s credibility in developing soft power, and may be subject to further criticism if efforts to refashion the country’s image gain global visibility.


The development of Confucius Institutes and control of Chinese students abroad are indicative of a coercive mindset that may have worked in the pre-opening-up era but is now stale and ineffective. China has rich potential to develop soft power through language, culture, and the creativity and wit of its now-thriving civil society. Openness, transparency, and tolerance of debate are crucial for liberating this potential, but would entail a change of strategic focus that is likely to be unpalatable within government ranks.


China’s reserve of soft power capacity is supported in large part by historic economic growth and success in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Given the apparent retreat from global leadership by nativist and populist governments in the West, China must look beyond the Belt and Road and the development of international economic institutions.


Focusing on global challenges like climate change, disease, and poverty are another important pathway for establishing global leadership, and can help other countries achieve the same transformational growth China experienced. Soft power may follow as China grows into its new role, but it will also test the country’s ability and willingness to liberalise state-society relations.




Asit K Biswas is the Distinguished Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore. Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Melbourne and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

This article was originally published by the POLICY FORUM on November 9, 2017.

The race for the World's shared bike...

The race for the World's shared bike rental market.

It is almost two years since Mobike co-founder Hu Weiwei put around 50 bicycles on the streets of Shanghai and drove away. Ofo had a similar beginning, spreading out shared bikes on Beijing’s university campuses. This is how China’s dockless bike rental economy was born.



Today, bikes are so bountiful that they are literally blocking the streets of Chinese cities. Although both companies have been hesitant to release numbers, the latest iResearch’s data (in Chinese) show that Mobike has 8.65 million daily active users while for Ofo that number climbs to 9.65 million. During 2017, Mobike has raised $1 billion and Ofo $1.15 billion, according to their own data.



The meteoric rise of the bike rental market has drawn much attention, not just for its disruptive business model, but also because it is one of the first tech trends coming from China that has swept the entire world.



Different paths, same goal

The two bike rental giants have taken very different roads to success in China. Ofo took the fast route by quickly spreading cheap bikes from campuses to the streets of Chinese cities. It then worked on its technology with the help of investors China Telecom and Huawei by adding GPS tracking and upgrading its locks.



Mobike was more meticulous in planning: the company first set up its own factory to produce sturdy bikes integrating GPS and QR code authentication and then moved on to expanding their business.



As Grace Gu, principal at one of ofo’s backer ZhenFund, explained during this year’s ChinaBang Awards, Ofo showed a typical Northern China style of expansion, while Mobike has the Southern China business style.



“In short, Southern style is bottom-up with a ready product, and Northern style is top-down strategy and later do optimization,” said Gu. The two companies have transplanted their styles into the global arena. Ofo is following its co-founder’s Austin Zhang’s credo “rapid spread, yellow will cover the world” Besides Chinese cities, the little yellow bikes can currently be seen on the streets of UK, US, Singapore, Thailand, Austria, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and Japan. Last September, the 22nd World Car Free Day the company announced it will be launching in a cluster of four European countries of Russia, Czech Republic, Italy, and Netherlands.



Ofo also went beyond the simple yet effective marketing tactic the two companies have been using in China. With their flashy colors, the bikes market themselves; all they had to do is offer free rides and the good word was spread by the users. Now, Ofo is taking a more vocal approach: it has teamed up with UNPD to offer grants for green projects and has announced smog-filtering bicycles. It has even gotten Rihanna on board by sending bikes to schoolgirls in Malawi through the singer’s foundation.



Mobike, on the other hand, has been behaving in the Southern Chinese fashion—slow and cautious. According to the company’s Head of Global Partnerships, the company is now focusing on raising their efficiency through technology and strong support from the local government.



Mobike has set the same target as Ofo for this year—200 cities. Besides China, the company has so far entered Singapore, US, UK, Italy, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia.



But Mobike has been compensating for its lack of speed by investing in AI data monitoring platform Magic Cube which will help operate its bikes and fight illegal parking. The company has also partnered up with tech giants such as Foxconn, Qualcomm, Vodafone, AT&T, Cisco, and Ericsson. This plays in line with the fact that Mobike is at heart a technology company.



But Ofo is catching up on the big data game. In Japan, Ofo is cooperating with SoftBank C&S’s division for IOT, robotics and the cloud. It was also the first bike rental company to announce implementing near-field communication (NFC) locks which will enable users to unlock bikes even faster.



Bumps, curbs, and potholes

The two companies have geared up to fight for the global market, but the road ahead will be slippery. The success of expansion into other markets will be in part based on these factors–including population density (i.e., high capacity utilization and high availability), economic factors, conducive environments for safe biking (i.e., physical layouts, base rates of crime, etc.), and state/government regulations that do not hinder growth. One of the bigger issues is gaining the trust of local governments. Bluegogo’s example reminds us that not all cities are willing to take the risk of flooding its streets with shared bikes. The company shipped hundreds of bikes to San Francisco just to have the government issue regulations that would make it unfeasible to operate in the city.



Even when the cities agree to welcome shared bikes, there are other factors to consider: The Parisian docked bike-sharing scheme Vélib which reported half of its bikes were stolen, some of them being discovered as far away as Romania. And while vandalism and theft are not rare in China, bike sharing companies in foreign markets will be left without the possibility of quickly replacing stolen and damaged bikes.



Finally, both Ofo and Mobike will have to face local competition. US companies are joining the race: LimeBike already covers nine cities and it is taking on ofo in Seattle along with Spin, while Vbike is starting is growth in Dallas. Even regulation-obsessed Europe has welcomed its first homegrown dockless bike rental scheme Urbo. Recent news from Singapore—both Mobike’s and ofo’s first foothold abroad—has shown that the Chinese bike rental giants could lose out: local company oBike is currently the most popular bike renting option and it is making its way to London.




This article first was first published in TechNode: started in 2009 by Dr. Lu Gang, TechNode began as one man’s attempt to tell the world about what’s happening in China’s tech and startup ecosystems. Their annual innovation and entrepreneurship awards ceremony ChinaBang sees the best and brightest of China get recognized for their contributions to their community and industries. Additionally TechCrunch events connect the Chinese startup community with the rest of world.



Tales of the 573: Bus Etiquette in China

Tales of the 573: Bus Etiquette in China

By Paul Ross.



On the 573, an empty seat doesn’t stay empty for very long, even if the seat is next to another one that is also empty. If you want one of them, you have to move fast otherwise one of your fellow passengers will most certainly get there first. And when he does, I can guarantee that he will take the outside seat, effectively blocking access to the seat unoccupied. 



Grabbing the aisle seat like that while leaving the one by the window stranded is a move that would not be tolerated in a New York or a Paris where a passenger who even contemplated such a thing would in short order be shamed by his fellow passengers into moving to the seat by the window.  On the 573 (or, for that matter, any other bus in China), I have never seen any passenger who has taken the aisle seat and blocked the seat by the window exhibit the slightest bit of discomfort or remorse. Nor, to my knowledge, has anyone ever raised an objections to this practice much less raised an eyebrow in disapproval.



As to what accounts for the “stranded seat” phenomenon, a number of hypotheses have been put forth that range from the socio-cultural to the purely practical.  The more practical and, arguably, most selfish reason is that people want to make it as easy as possible for themselves to get off the bus when it reaches their stop. They don’t want to be bothered with climbing on or around someone else in the process which they would have had to do if they had taken the seat by the window. A passenger sitting by the window, especially in Summer, is more directly exposed to the sun’s rays,  which can make for an uncomfortably hot ride not to mention the potential health hazard.  From a socio-cultural standpoint, those living in China, in general,  have a greater tolerance for a more restricted personal space than those in less populated places might have. So the close physical contact that comes from getting into and out of an empty seat by the window might not be regarded as as much of an inconvenience by the local passengers as it would be by passengers on buses in large cities outside of China.


Another unique aspect of local etiquette applies to the way passengers make their way off the bus. The broadcast announcement of a bus’s pending arrival at its next stop is the signal that sets in motion a complex maneuvering. Passengers who want to get off the bus begin to push their way towards the door shouting ‘huan yi xia, huan yi xia” (change places, change places !) obliging those closest to the door to move out of the way. Like the interlocking pieces of a Rubik’s cube, the two groups slide past each other as they move to fill the spaces that are being vacated. 



This ‘pas de deux’ is difficult to execute on a bus that at peak hour is crowded to overcapacity and is particularly disruptive on a bus in motion when fare cards are being passed up and down the aisles and passengers are already struggling to keep their footing.  I personally find it difficult to appreciate the urgency that motivates this moving and shifting and fail to understand why some passengers feel it’s necessary to put so many others to such great inconvenience just so they can secure a pole position for themselves when the doors open.  



In my experience, when the passengers who are already closest to the door begin to make their way off a path naturally opens up that makes it possible for those who standing further back to get off quickly and usually with plenty of time to spare. To prove the point, I’ve made calculations. From the time the door opens at any given stop to the time it closes an average of 1 minutes and 53 seconds has elapsed.  A passenger standing within ten meters of the door, a distance that  roughly speaking covers midway to the back of the bus, can comfortably make his way off in 46 seconds, even on a bus that is at full capacity. It is clear from this analysis that under normal operating conditions not only does a passenger have sufficient time to get off from a starting point anywhere on the bus, but that there is still ample time left – 1 minute and 7 seconds, to be exact.


The way you should address yourself to the driver (to complain about his driving skills, for example) also follows a certain etiquette. The official mechanism for expressing one’s views is a notebook marked ‘Suggestions and Comments” that hangs suspended from a hook by the driver’s seat.  The book’s yellowing cover and dog-eared pages suggest that it is provided more to meet a specific design specification and round out the decor than to be used in any meaningful way.



In practice, no one ever engages the driver except, perhaps, to inquire about the route or the fare. I have found by trial and no small amount of error that the most acceptable way to share feedback is to preface the feedback with the words “wo you yi ge xiao jianyi”.   (“I have a small suggestion”) .  This phrase, in particular its inclusion of the word “xiao” (small), expresses a humility that will make even the most belligerent  driver more receptive.



The other evening I was on the 573 heading home. The bus had just rounded the corner on its return route up Jinqiao Road when a man who had taken the aisle seat and left the window seat empty suddenly reached up and began tugging on my sleeve pointing to the open seat next to him. My inclination was to refuse the offer, as well-intentioned as it was. I wasn’t so desperate to have a seat that I was willing to climb over someone to get to it.  But in this case, much to my astonishment, the man moved over to the seat by the window, ceding the prized outside seat.  I still didn’t take him up on the offer because I found his uncommon behavior suspicious. He was too solicitous. After further reflection, I came to the conclusion that the man was perhaps a harbinger of change in traditional bus etiquette that was still too new and unexpected to be appreciated for what it was.





Paul Ross is a telecommunications executive who has worked in China for more than 10 years. He has written numerous articles for hi-tech publications such as Wireless Week and Red Herring.



Putting China’s growth into perspectiv...

Putting China’s growth into perspective.

The sheer growth and scale of China’s economy in a global context can be difficult to visualise. An economy which is expected to overtake that of the US by the end of the decade can be difficult to put into perspective. While Chinese GDP has slowed in recent years, its is still growing at a remarkable scale and is perhaps the most important international event since the end of the Cold War. We believe the two graphics below help you to understand this growth phenomenon



This chart looks at the annual Chinese GDP growth going back to the year 2000, comparing it to the equivalent total GDP of other nations around the world.



Source: HSBC research, Visual Capitalist.

mHealth: the next evolution in Chinese...

mHealth: the next evolution in Chinese healthcare?

By Daniel Addyson.


The Chinese healthcare system is struggling to provide adequate medical access for its 1.4 billion citizens. But the Chinese may have already have built the foundation for sustainability: their love of mobile technology.



Getting medical care in China



For a westerner visiting a Chinese hospital for the first time, it’s an eye-opening and sometimes mind-boggling experience. During the few trips I have made to China over the last decade, I’ve occasionally had to visit local hospitals. The scene can be at once chaotic and yet oddly more efficient than the US. Typically, visiting the doctor means going a large hospital (as opposed to outpatient settings like the US), which houses multiple specialties ranging from primary care, to maternity wards, to high-end surgery. Much like standing in line at the grocery store, you grab a ticket and wait in line to see the receptionist, who then directs you to the appropriate specialty center. From there another ticket is taken to wait for the specialist. The process continues on to other specialties if needed, such as X-ray or lab draws, until finally you end at the original doctor, who will examine the accumulated results and make a final determination of the condition.



When I first encountered this style of healthcare, I was somewhat enamored. I compared the experience to the US, where I had to book an appointment to a primary care physician or specialist, then a separate appointment on a different day across town for a blood draw, then return to the original doctor on yet another day for my follow-up consultation. A few hours of actual medical intervention were stretched into days or weeks. The system I first experienced in China seemed to compact all of that waiting and scheduling into a much shorter span of time. This is the prevailing paradigm of clinical care in China and other East Asian countries. Although smaller outpatient clinics do exist, most care still takes place in large, multi-specialty hospitals.



The Problem: insufficient capacity

Thankfully, my experiences with healthcare abroad have been relatively minor and infrequent. For the average Chinese citizen, and even expats, the experience can be far worse. Shaun Rein, a US expat and market research expert living in China, writes about his experience with Chinese healthcare in his book, The End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia:

I went to 38 doctors. I became used to Chinese hospitals, and they are not pleasant places for everyday people. If you don’t have lots of money to buy VIP time slots or connections to skip queues, you just have to grab a ticket and wait in line to see a doctor. Patient rooms are often filled with dozens of other patients so privacy does not exist. The frazzled, overworked doctors in top-tier hospitals have so many patients to see that they often spend less than a minute per patient.

Rein goes on to describe the causes for the massive inefficiency in Chinese medical care, which in fact are fairly basic: 1) doctors are not paid very well, so it’s not seen as a lucrative or desirable profession to enter; 2) there aren’t enough medical providers to see the number of citizens in China’s rapidly urbanizing cities. Consequently, there are a number of knock-on effects that further exacerbate the problem: social acceptance of bribery (“red envelopes”) for quality care; paying extra to skip waiting queues (“VIP service”); or using personal connections (“guanxi”) to schedule appointments with doctors. The problem even extends to device and pharmaceutical sales, where reps bribe providers to use their products.



Rein’s assessment is that the situation is gradually improving, and he credits President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on fraud for helping stem the abuses in the healthcare system. However, China is still left with its fundamental problem: quality care is still often unaffordable or inaccessible for many poor and middle-class Chinese citizens. Although the government has plans to dramatically increase the number of medical providers throughout the country , the prospect of overwork and little pay doesn’t make the medical field particularly attractive to Chinese college graduates. This means that there is still a very high risk of chronic shortages of qualified staffing in rural areas and for certain specialties.



Why mHealth can help

Daxue Consulting and the Brookings Institution have highlighted specific areas where mHealth can help in developing healthcare capacities in the country:

  • Continuity, Quality of Care & Data Access: Using mobile platforms can provide consumers with a pipeline to their medical history: medications prescribed, previous visits to providers, diagnostic results, etc. Rather than trying to navigate a fragmented care environment where a patient might be shuttling between different hospitals and trying to maintain separate sets of medical records, mHealth platforms can consolidate this data and help patients make sense of it. On the same token, data collection from mHealth options allow both patients and providers to better monitor chronic conditions, medication adherence, and other important data points in the care process.
  • Freeing up hospital capacity: One of the primary goals of mHealth is to increase the availability of healthcare by reducing costlier and time-consuming face-to-face communication between patients and providers and replacing it with digital communication. In this regard, mHealth has performed well in a few different areas. Two primary examples are below:
  • Routine counseling: reaching out to patients for follow-up and routine care via phone or app rather than having them come back to an actual clinic. 
  • Digital diagnosis: In addition to patients texting or sending photos to their providers for remote diagnosis, there are a number of initiatives to turn smartphones into self-contained diagnostic tools. App developers and data scientists are using machine learning technologies to identify cancerous skin lesions based on image recognition. Even the way we use our smartphones are being used to predict our health status. These kinds of advances are poised to provide much needed decision support to overworked medical staff.



Why China is unique: its love of mobile technology

It’s clear that China’s healthcare system is literally at overflow capacity. The country needs innovative solutions to lighten the service burden on major hospitals. Fortunately, China’s love of mobile technology makes mHealth solutions a perfect fit to get better healthcare access to its citizens.



China’s mobile focus

Healthcare technology companies seeking to make inroads in China face a market that is already primed to adopt mobile solutions. China has embraced mobile technology in a way that’s hard to imagine in the US or other Western nations. According to a Verto Analytics report, “As many as 94% of all Chinese online users use smartphones vs. 70% in the U.S.” In addition to the popularity of smartphone usage, the Chinese market has unique characteristics that make it uniquely open to mHealth uptake:



  • The prevalence of mobile commerce: Mobile options for everything from shopping to in-store payments to social media are just as, or more, prevalent in China as the West. An illustrative case in point: mobile pay. There are now effectively two options for making payments in China: cash or mobile pay, with mobile being the far more preferable choice with both small and large vendors. Most B2C transactions in China effectively run through one of the country’s mobile payment giants, such as WeChat or Alipay. The Chinese market is also much more open to using mobile options for their day-to-day needs. For example, Rein cites the relative success of mobile grocery shopping in China compared to the US, where uptake has been minimal. Rein explicates a number of reasons for the popularity of digital lifestyle, ranging from convenience to safety concerns from air pollution. These numerous factors have helped acclimate much of the population to conduct business over their smartphones; healthcare companies who can take advantage of this stand to quickly gain substantial market share.



  • Multi-function smartphone apps: An additional feature that sets China apart is not only the prevalence of mobile options, but the integration of multiple functions into a single app, (ie. payments, messaging, social media, and shopping). Unlike Westerners who are accustomed to apps with one or two primary uses, the successful Chinese model is based on a few apps providing diverse and multiple services. WeChat stands as an illustrative case in point: chat features, ride sharing services, and mobile payments among others, are all housed under one platform. Companies seeking to implement mHealth and telehealth programs in China can leverage existing platforms, which already have wide and stable customer bases, to reach their desired patient populations.



With Chinese consumers adopting mobile options much more readily than in the West, companies seeking to implement mHealth technologies already have a primed market and the technology infrastructure to facilitate its adoption.



Challenges to implementation



Although the market appears ripe, effective implementation in the Chinese market also faces unique challenges. It’s no secret that companies often fail :

  • China’s rural and offline populations: mHealth and Telehealth platforms are frequently cited as ways for providers to reach rural and other low-access populations. But there’s a converse problem: rural populations also tend to have lower access to infrastructures like wireless data that make mobile technologies work. Although the government has made a huge push to consolidate the Chinese population through urbanization programs, roughly 43% of China’s population still lives in rural areas. Additionally, in spite of the high proportion of smartphone users, only 50% of the total population is even online. Smartphone penetration is expected to reach over half the population by 2019, and with it the infrastructure needed to make smartphone use practical (namely, wireless and cellular data access). Nevertheless, companies need to accurately assess their target population before trying to enter the market.



  • Patient perceptions of quality & safety: Rein’s Copycat China dedicates an extensive amount of space to the concerns Chinese have for quality products and services. With the number of scandals regarding food and medical safety, as well as the prevalent air pollution problem, Chinese consumers place very high value on product quality. mHealth technologies, whether telephonic outreach to patients or digital diagnostics, need to clearly demonstrate that they provide high quality medical care. Consumers need to be convinced that they’d be just as good or better off staying home rather than going to a top-tier hospital for routine medical needs.



  • Managing providers’ expectations: Providers also need to see the value of putting in the time and effort of new initiatives for medicine. The Brookings Institution report recommends that the government incentivize providers to participate in telemedicine programs, but expectations for mHealth solutions also need to be managed. Digital platforms are typically promoted as a way for more patients to get to doctors. However, doctors who are already overworked need to see how mHealth options can reduce their crushing workload, otherwise they are likely to see little reason to participate.



Conclusion: Focus on delivery strategy and solving targeted needs

In spite of these challenges, mHealth can be a major win for the Chinese healthcare system and for the companies who provide these services. Rather than trying to foment a major revolution in the Chinese healthcare system, companies interested in implementing mHealth solutions will most likely find success in developing focused, strategic partnerships that solve specific needs for patients. By working with hospitals and government health plans to access patient populations, as well as popular mobile apps to effectively run their platforms, mHealth technologies stand to create substantial progress in improving quality care access in the Chinese health system.




Daniel Addyson is a data scientist and healthcare analytics consultant. His work specifically focuses on health technology and analytics implementation for emerging markets, with a specialization in East Asia. Dan's work can be found at



China's Groundwater Crisis

China's Groundwater Crisis

Two of the world’s most densely populated regions, northern India and northern China, are experiencing high levels of groundwater depletion, according to a 2015 study sponsored by NASA. For these and many other highly stressed aquifers, natural replenishment through precipitation is unable to offset human-led extraction, threatening water quality and supply sustainability. Three notable cases are the Ganges River and Indus Basin (both in India), and the North China Aquifer. Given that these areas account for a significant percentage of the national population in the world’s two largest countries, groundwater depletion should be an urgent policy imperative.

In China, significant efforts have been made to address water shortages in scarcity-prone regions, including pipeline transfers, desalination, and stronger urban design standards. Nevertheless, depletion of groundwater continues and the impacts are dire, both for individual users and for urban health and safety in general.

In rapidly developing regions, groundwater provides a quick and easy way to satisfy unexpectedly high demand. However, increased usage resulting from population growth, industrial expansion, and lingering agricultural activity is causing water stress where groundwater reserves are already overdrawn.

Increasingly erratic weather and saltwater intrusion, both associated with climate change, can alter groundwater levels and quality. The impacts of lower levels are dire; not only is there less to consume, but lower quality can worsen public health crises and burden existing purification systems (or require the purchase of expensive new ones).

In China, a population equal to 20 per cent of the world total relies on less than 6 per cent of the world’s groundwater. The overstressed North China Aquifer serves 11 per cent of the country’s population, 13 per cent of its agricultural production, and 70 per cent of its coal production.

China’s solutions have, so far, been inadequate. The massive South-North Water Transfer Project has supplied Beijing with an annual 2 billion cubic metres of Yangtze River water since 2014, but is not a long-term solution. The project, costly and imposing as it is, could mask the need to address other water management challenges such as leakage, ageing infrastructure, and wasteful usage. As the largest such project in the world, the transfer also brings negative impacts to source regions, including over-withdrawal during dry seasons and displacement of communities (a common problem for China’s dam projects).

Further, a government-led study of groundwater quality, which included source regions for the Yangtze River, found that 80 per cent of the country’s groundwater is contaminated by toxic metals and other pollutants, rendering supply unfit for human consumption.

Desalination is another solution with thus-far unrealised potential. In coastal areas near Beijing, restrictions on extraction of groundwater for industrial use have been adopted to force desalination into the supply portfolio, but desalinated water has not been incorporated systematically into China’s municipal water systems. Additionally, the negative impacts of scaled-up desalination on marine and coastal areas may be overlooked at great peril to sustainability and ecological health.

The incompleteness of these measures has perpetuated dependence on groundwater, and over-extraction is having severe impacts on Beijing; including that the city is dropping by 11 centimeters (4.3 inches) per year due to the gaps left after extraction, causing subsidence and damage to infrastructure. The problem is particularly acute in the Chaoyang district, which encompasses the capital city’s eastern suburbs – areas that are rapidly expanding with dense, high-rise construction.

In the United States, the highly-publicised case of a new luxury tower leaning several degrees only years after construction, due to poor foundation standards, illustrates the legal, financial, and social challenges of building in areas with geotechnical instability. San Francisco’s leaning tower is 57 floors tall, but many in Beijing’s rapidly subsiding districts are far taller. Will it take a disaster to generate calls for robust demand management?

According to the authors of the NASA study, “It is important to understand where existing socio-economic tensions may collide with water stress to produce stress-driven conflicts.” In China, the desire for economic growth has long conflicted with environmental protection and public health; crisis-level air pollution is a continuous reminder of this. As water governance occurs largely at the central level, high-level policies should target continued economic growth and urbanisation only within the confines of water resource limits. Efforts such as the “three red lines” initiative require cities to constrain water consumption to enable more effective regional allocation. Similar restrictions could be imposed for water-intensive industries and other heavy users.

Water conservation is also dependent as much on individual decisions as on national policy-making. One example is California’s 2015 water shortage. Governor Jerry Brown called for a state-wide reduction in usage of 25 per cent in July 2015, and the state exceeded expectations by reducing usage 31 per cent. Much of this reduction came from changes in personal habits; fewer people watered lawns and washed cars. The state also encouraged municipalities to actively manage demand; in turn, many imposed surcharges on individual users who exceeded stipulated limits. Pricing is a powerful water demand management tool.

China’s demand profile for water does not closely resemble California’s; both markets have high usage for agriculture (64 per cent in China and 80 per cent in California), but China’s manufacturing activity as a share of economic output is larger than California’s. Furthermore, Chinese citizens are less likely to use water for lawns and washing cars. However, China must adopt a more aggressive volumetric pricing program to manage demand, particularly for industrial users. On a per cubic metre basis, water tariffs on businesses and individuals are less than 12 per cent of those in Denmark and less than half those in the world’s developed countries. China’s implicit subsidization of water serves little purpose, least of all in prompting conservation and innovation.

China has made some effort to address these challenges. The sponge-cities program, a modified version of low-impact development (LID) that focuses on permeable surfaces and water infrastructure, seeks to increase groundwater absorption. The central government has set a target for 80 per cent of Chinese cities to meet sponge-city standards by 2030. This is a crucial step in aggressively and publicly addressing groundwater depletion under urban areas, including Beijing.

However, there appears to be a tepid appetite for private investment in these projects. More aggressive inducements may be needed to prompt public-private partnerships for sponge-city development.

Addressing the groundwater depletion problem – and in broader measure the growing crisis of water scarcity amidst rapid urbanisation – will require a multi-pronged approach that includes unequivocal political will, transparency regarding the impacts and costs of depletion, creative policy initiatives to manage demand, and support for technical innovations to improve efficiency in usage. Both China’s economic and environmental sustainability are at stake.




Asit K Biswas is the Distinguished Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. National University of Singapore, Singapore. Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This article was first published by the Policy Forum on 12 April 2017.


Less instant noodles and more local...

Less instant noodles and more local food: China's independent travelers

By Michele Gelaotto,

In late 2014 president Xi Jinping, while visiting the Maldives, advised Chinese travelers to eat less instant noodles and more local food when in other countries. Despite the economy slowing, the impact on outbound travel from high-net-worth individuals seems to have steadily grown. The length of travel is also increasing for some, and more Chinese travelers are even taking an entire “gap year” abroad. Historically speaking, the Chinese have never really been interested in exploring the world before. But according to a recent report of Business Intelligence Fung Center, the number of Chinese tourist travelling abroad is constantly growing and could be doubled in 2020 to reach 234 million of tourist. And the tourist’s expenses are growing too. International trips are predicted to rise by 25% over the next three years, while adventure trips, polar expeditions, and road trip travels will increase by 52%, 38%, and 75%, respectively during this time.



The different demographics of Chinese outbound tourism



A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that it exits different types of tourism in China.

  • 40% are group’s travelers traveling once every 2 or 3 years and are usually aged between 46 to 54 years old. 81% of them prefer to go with group tours.
  • 35% are semi-independent travelers traveling many times in a year and planning some organized programs but keeping independent. Most of the time, they are between 25 and 35 years old. 66% of this group belongs to the high-income bracket, and their financial standing is expected to increase as their careers advance. The majority hold white collar executive or professional jobs, the annual study found. Once this group hits their 30s, they become much more concerned with their appearance: 9 percent of those in the age group of 31 to 35 have traveled for beauty treatments and cosmetic surgery, compared to 6% of all millennials and 4 percent across all age groups.
  • 25% are independent travelers traveling by themselves and aging between 20 and 25 years old. They’re also more open-minded about staying in hotels that might not focus on catering for their specific cultural and other needs, and the younger contingent (age 18-20) is more willing to stay at hostels and backpacker-type places.



This not seems to be just the beginning of this new wave. The growth of standard living in China with the emergency of a middle class, an opening mind to the western cultures, the increase of direct flights between international destinations and China and facilities concerning visa process have enhanced this phenomenon. In 2014, China and United States have agreed to lengthen the visa validity short term for the business travelers, tourists and students with 10 years multiple-entry tourist visas.



China’s young rich travelers are in search of unique and adventurous travel experiences



The young luxury travelers have high standards when it comes to hotel choice. Personalized service is the biggest area of consideration when choosing a hotel, they also prefer hotel brands featuring “art and design that make the travel experience feel unique and fun,” while demanding high-tech digital equipment. Young Chinese travelers are also more likely to use digital platforms for their trip research, including official WeChat accounts, and word-of-mouth through Wechat friends, as well as Chinese travel booking sites—the three most popular are Ctrip, Qunar, and Tuniu.



According to data from market research group GfK, this group of consumers are more ‘hedonistic’ in their willingness to spend money to indulge and pamper themselves and slightly less price sensitive. They are looking for meaningful, adventurous and exciting experiences. They are technologically savvy and highly involved in sharing experiences on social media platforms. Brands need to understand the shift from an older organized tour traveler to a new world independent Chinese traveler



The four to six weeks before the trip is seen as a key time to engage them as they research, plan and book their trips. In the lead up to the Chinese New Year in February, for example, iClick Interactive worked with Michael Kors to help it promote a collection of Lunar New Year of the Monkey products to potential outbound Chinese consumers traveling to the UK, France and Italy.



While resorts in unique locations have ample opportunity to take advantage of the trend, luxury brands have also been coming up with creative in-store experiences in China and across the world such as special events and product customization. LVMH-owned DFS, which has locations in Bali and across the Pacific Rim, teams up with luxury brands to provide limited-edition items available only in a given location.



Tech-savvy Chinese tourists



The new Chinese tourist is digitally oriented, with 50% using mobile booking. When planning their trips, they rely less on travel agents and more on review sites and online accommodation booking, while 30% use social media. They also want to stay plugged in when they get to their destination—63% of all Chinese millennial travelers surveyed said that WiFi is a key amenity they look for in a hotel. This gets even more important as they get younger—among 18 to 20-year-olds, WiFi is important for 70%.



For the Chinese consumer, digital is key. In the past some luxury brands had the attitude that “we are luxury – we don’t do online” but no one would think that now. As more and more Chinese consumers research products from overseas, a globally aligned branding strategy is essential. Brands coming into China and positioning themselves as very high-end, can face consumer backlash and brand devaluation if products are discovered in home markets that don’t match that perception. Chinese consumers can now see where and how things are being sold overseas and this can undermine whole marketing strategies in China.



How to travel for free? Become a Chinese KOL



In China, KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) are very popular among cosmetics and clothes brands. But several travel agencies also had the good idea to offer free trips to stars or celebrities in exchange for them to post their holidays on social networks, including, why not, live broadcasting apps. A few years ago, Yaochen (a very famous Chinese actress) made the buzz by posting photos of her holidays in New Zealand. This led to a crave for the country never seen before.



Adventure tourism is the real symbol of this second wave of tourism



A lot more Chinese travelers are now repeat travelers and they’re looking for something more novel. Adventure tourism activities really don’t exist in China like they do elsewhere. Safety is also a top concern as Chinese are often more trusting of foreign adventure attractions following stringent guidelines than those closer to home.



New Zealand is the top destination for Chinese adventure travelers who can’t find many extreme sports or activities in their homeland. The country is known for outdoor activities transcending the intense sensuality of those in many other regions, albeit, Tourism New Zealand says adventure activities aren’t the most important factor for Chinese tourists making the relatively short hop to the destination. Between 14 and 19% of Chinese who plan to travel to the island nation rank adventure activities and adrenaline rushes as their top motivators.



In line with the growth in demand for exclusive “adventures”, the Polar regions are becoming particularly sought-after destinations for China’s luxury travelers. Other exotic long-haul destinations such Africa and the Middle East. This means the proportion of luxury Chinese tourists planning on visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau fell from 32% in 2015 to 19% in 2015, while the Southeast and South Asia regions saw their share decrease from 34% to 24% over the same period.



Independent Chinese tourists are often more confident and in control of their travel itineraries than previous types of Chinese tourists. And they are often more inclined to participate in adventure activities when they are abroad than when they are at home. Because of this, adventure activities are becoming more and more popular for Chinese globetrotters.



Adventures this new wave of Chinese tourists are looking for usually include:



  • Camping in secret spots. Chinese adventure tourists are looking for ways to experience well­-known destinations in an unusual way. As more and more Chinese tourists become repeat travelers, they will constantly be looking for somewhere more novel and intriguing to rest their heads.
  • Zip-lining over volcanos. Anything that can provide a dramatic view of the volcanic landscape and provide some GoPro footage.
  • Riding in a hot air balloon. A growing number of Chinese adventure­ seekers are looking for the best vessel to carry them to the highest heights and to be able to see landscapes from awe­-inspiring angles.
  • Abseiling or caving. For those Chinese tourists who are ready to take their adrenaline­-rushes to the next level, abseiling or caving in exotic locations like New Zealand and Australia are one of their top travel dreams.
  • Tubing, water sledging or river surfing.




Michele Galeotto is an Italian creative with expertise in designing integrated communication strategies. Michele has worked with many forward thinking companies in China or engaging with China. In 2013 he started Design Hotpot, an online platform where he writes about the mushrooming creative industries in China.


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