Posts Tagged ‘Public Opinion’

CTP Video: Can Chinese Companies Build Brand in the USA?

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Made in China FlagQuick quiz: name a single mainland Chinese company that has successfully built brand equity in the U.S. market sans acquisition?  Lenovo doesn’t count as most of its brand value derives from the purchase of IBM’s mobile computing group.  Haier?  No, they don’t make the grade either.  Haier sells a lot of product in the US but mostly as a low-cost generic white label manufacturer for big-box stores like Wal Mart and Target.  The only people who know the brand Haier are those who have lived in China.  Americans, on the other hand, just see a $50 refrigerator or $10 toaster without paying any attention to the manufacturer.  And why should they?  Haier does not advertise widely in the US market or make any noticeable effort to establish itself beyond its generic, low-cost origins.   That will change.  It has to.  Many Chinese companies like Baidu, Geely and BYD recognize that their home markets will eventually become saturated and if they want to grow, they will have to seek new markets overseas.  It won’t be easy though, as they will no longer have the benefit of protection and support from the central government in Beijing.  Instead, these Chinese companies will be forced to compete in manner that remains largely unfamiliar to most Chinese executives.

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The New New New Chinese TV Network

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

xinhua CNC imageHere we go again… yet again… a new Chinese international television network launches with great fanfare amid high expectations that this time, finally, China’s story will finally get a fair airing in the global marketplace.   After five months broadcasting in Mandarin, the all new China News Network Corporation debuted its English service this week. Admittedly, I have not seen the new service, either in Chinese or English, but I do approach this venture with the same skepticism I have had for the past ten years of other similar Chinese endeavors.  The Chinese are motivated by what they consider to be the unfair treatment they receive in the international media, particularly among the major global networks like CNN, the BBC and others.  Following the success of Al Jazeera in both Arabic and English, Beijing now has imperial media ambitions of its own to help promote its worldview and grab a larger share of the world’s television news audience.

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Rant: China Might Want to Consider Soft Power Too

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By any measure China’s awe inspiring embrace of Africa is impressive.  Let’s put aside the staggering financial statistics on how many billions of dollars Beijing is spreading across the continent or even the scale of its natural resource haul.  Honestly, there is no comparison because no other country or countries come close to the breadth and depth of china-africaChina’sengagement here.  While the Americans and Europeans meet in conferences and write report after report on the dismal political and humanitarian conditions in Africa, the Chinese are building deep roots here as part of a century-long investment.  From Algeria to Angola, tens of thousands of Chinese construction crews are laying the foundation of that investment with the building of countless roads, bridges, hospitals and other desperately needed infrastructure.  For that, there is widespread appreciation across many levels of society for Beijing’s ability to persevere where both national governments and international donors have largely failed.  Not far away, though, from those construction sites, problems are beginning to simmer that if go unchecked could severely compromise Beijing’s long term agenda in Africa.

China is not just bringing piles of cash and construction trucks to Africa, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are also making the long journey to resettle in cities like right here in Kinshasa.  These immigrants, like Mister Chen who we profiled Mister Chen1ctpearlier, are coming here in search of opportunity and to build a better life for their families.  They are opening businesses large and small in out of the way neighborhoods that largely go unseen by the casual observer.  In so many ways, the Chinese entrepreneurial enthusiasm is a welcome addition to poor and dysfunctional communities that essentially operate outside of the formal economy.  In short, the Chinese are bringing desperately needed jobs, goods and services.  Human culture being what it is though, there is also tremendous risk with how the Chinese ultimately assimilate with Congolese and other African cultures.  Initially, the arrival of those Chinese business were greeted either with indifference or welcomed as a positive addition to the community.  Now, however, the first rumblings of unease are beginning to emerge as some communities find the Chinese presence to be more problematic than they had initially thought.  This issue was most recently brought to light in Namibia where the growing competition from Chinese hair salon owners prompted the government to place an outright ban on Chinese ownership of these types of beauty parlors.  Separately, I am hearing more and more firsthand reports from Congolese who have friends and relatives working on Chinese construction projects who complain that Chinese foremen are becoming increasingly aggressive with their local employees.  It has been well documented that in countries such as Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Algeria (source: China Safari, 2009) that many Chinese employers lack cultural sensitivity skills that would endear them to local populations.

To many Chinese, these so-called “soft skills” are meaningless.  The common retort from many Chinese business owners and project managers is that local workers complain because the Chinese work harder and demand more from their employees than do African companies.  The fact that local workers are complaining about working for low wages or not being paid at all just further reinforces that Chinese mindset.   In fact, the emotional standoff between Chinese merchants and their African critics is very similar to the same arguments made about cultural insensitivity by the Chinese in certain minority -populated provinces in China.  Now, let me be very clear here.  I do not have an opinion as to whether or not the popular sentiment held by the majority Han culture in China is correct or the views of minorities who feel their cultures are being paved over.  I will leave those questions to far more learned observers.  My point is that the debate is so similar.  The Han perspective emphasizes economic development as evidence by infrastructure construction.  Sentimentality for culture or religion is rarely a priority when measured against infrastructure development in economically deprived regions.

Considering the tremendous speed the Chinese are moving in Africa, particularly here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there may good reason to allocate a small percentage of that investment to building cultural ties between the Chinese and their African hosts.  The Congolese, for example, seem overwhelmingly positive about the Chinese arrival.  They regard the Chinese initiatives with optimism and see their enthusiasm for Africa as welcome relief from the failed policies of the West.  That said, the DRC is an extremely volatile country where a spark can light a blaze in seconds.  If the Chinese are not carefully with their cultural investment, it could handicap their broader regional agenda.

Welcome to the Congo, now pay up!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sicomines(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) — on this my first night in the capital, I thought it would be fitting to talk about what it actually takes to get here.  For the average visitor, it’s rather straightforward: pay the $75 visa fee, show your Yellow Fever vaccination card and you are a welcome visitor to the DRC.  Now, if I happen to represent a company, say a Chinese company, the price of admission is considerable higher.  No, let me rephrase that… ASTRONOMICALLY higher.  In some excellent reporting by the website Africa-Asia Confidential, some of the first reports are emerging over just how much the Chinese have paid to access the DR Congo’s vast natural resources.

  • Chinese contractors in the Sicomines mining consortium are reported to have paid a $350 million dollar entry fee that includes some $50 million in signing bonuses given out to varies Congolese entities.
  • $23 million of that $50 million is now reported to be “missing” or “unaccounted for,” according to Africa-Asia Confidential.
  • The $350 million dollars was a small part of a $6 billion ore-for-infrastructure contract between Chinese state-owned companies and the Congolese mining giant Gecamines (other Congolese companies are also reported to be included in this deal).

Read the full report “Kinshasa’s Missing Millions” from Africa-Asia Confidential here…

The lack of accountability and transparency in China’s natural resource deals in both the DR Congo and across Africa are now starting to show signs that it may ultimately weaken China’s position on the continent.   Here in Kinshasa, President Joseph Kabila is making some of his first public remarks on his growing impatience with the Chinese.  It’s worth noting that Kabila’s comments are worth taking with a huge chunk of salt as he is likely posturing to pressure the Chinese to finish their infrastructure projects so he can claim credit ahead of next year’s presidential elections.  Furthermore, there is widespread speculation that Kabila himself may be among the beneficiaries of some of those “missing Kinshasa millions.”  Nonetheless, that he feels sufficiently embolden to begin using public pressure against the Chinese is noteworthy.

Kabila may in fact be following the lead of Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata who came within a hair’s breadth of winning the October 2008 presidential elections.  Sata ran his campaign on a platform opposing Chinese investment in Zambia, calling the nature of the deals unfair and “colonial.”  Sata, and potentially now Kabila, may be the first indications of growing unease over the speed, scope and scale of Chinese investments in the region.  Their main criticism: labor.  Unlike the waves of foreign investment by former colonial powers, the Chinese have added a distinctive twist to their investments.  Rather than rely on local labor to implement the huge number of infrastructure projects across the country, tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasant laborers have been imported to build the ports, roads, mines and telecommunications infrastructure projects Beijing promised in return for access to the host country’s natural resources.  Before anyone else in Africa complained, Sata was a vocal critic of these deals.  If elected, he promised to re-negotiate the labor contracts to make them more equitable for Zambia by reducing the presence of Chinese workers.  Sata’s threats were heard in Beijing with the government there threatening to end its investment program in Zambia if the opposition leader was elected.  Sata lost by a very small margin.

The DR Congo and Zambia are not alone in their gnawing frustration over the use of imported Chinese labor.  In Southeast Asia, the New York Times reports growing resentment in Vietnam and other nations over the presence of Chinese workers at the expense of local labor.  So the key question now is how will Beijing react to what appears to be a small, yet discernible trend opposing their overseas labor policy:

  1. Will they ignore the criticism and continue to employ the aggressive natural resource-for-infrastructure deals?
  2. The Chinese are extremely sensitive to public opinion at home and have become quite adept at responding to shifting political winds.  Will they apply that same dexterity with their natural resource-driven foreign policy?
  3. Will they offer a few minor face-saving public gestures to satisfy their overseas critics that provide sufficient political cover to continue their operations minus a small percentage of imported Chinese labor?

It would be unwise to bet against the Chinese.  I have done it numerous times in the past and I have regretted it later.  That said, the Chinese are in a totally new space here and they are operating without precedent in international relations.  No country has expanded its natural resource extraction footprint as quickly, aggressively and with as much man power as the Chinese have.  So Beijing must learn as it goes.  For the rest of us, this will be among the most important foreign policy lessons of our generation.

Understanding America: “Sticking it to the Man!”

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

There is a current within the recent debate over Google and China that many Chinese observers are overlooking.  Both Michael and I feel agree that the reaction to Google’s opposition to Chinese censorship rules and the company’s threat to withdraw entirely from the China market are misunderstood.  It is easy to take this one dispute and examine it in a vacuum.  By itself, this controversy can be seen as a human rights issue/information imperialism/a Google business failure/control over the internet and the list goes on and on.  While those are all valid filters to explore this issue, none of them adequately explain the overwhelming public support that Google is receiving in the United States for its decision to challenge the central government.  Americans are rallying behind Google in this dispute because we, as a culture, as a people love to challenge authority: (more…)

China’s Enters its own “Bush-Cheney Phase”

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

bush cheneyAtlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows has coined a wonderful expression to summarize a series of controversial Chinese decisions over the past year: the new “Bush-Cheney Phase.” The stunning news that Google and China are about to embark on a high-stakes face-off coming on the heels of Beijing’s more assertive stance at the U.N. climate conference along with the December sentencing of dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison all prompt new questions as to whether we are entering a phase where the Chinese are far less concerned about how their decisions are perceived internationally.

The “Bush-Cheney” era in American politics was characterized by pure “Realpolitk” where needs of American national security interests were paramount.  When Fallows talks of China entering its own “Bush-Cheney” phase he is referring to a policy making (more…)

Glenn Beck’s America: If you aren’t familiar with it, you should be

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Too many people focus on the same 15-20 China analysts for their insights on Sino-U.S. relations.  Elizabeth Economy, Nicholas Lardy, Jonathan Spence and Orville Schell among others are all extremely learned and no doubt represent the backbone of American Sinology.  For Chinese observers, though, it is critically important to expand their horizons beyond the academic and intellectual elites to more populist personalities who can often have far more influence over the debate in Washington.   (more…)

China’s View of Itself and the World

Thursday, November 12th, 2009
PEW GLOBAL ATTITUDES PROJECT PRC US INDIA TURKEY
Percent Satisfied with Country’s Direction 87% 36% 53% 22%
Percent Who View US as World’s Leading Economic Power 41% 48% 63% 58%
Percent Satisfied with Household Income 64% 71% 91% 51%
Percent of Population Who View China Favorably 95% 50% 46% 16%

I pulled some data from Pew’s recent data on global attitudes.  No need to go into great detail here, but I believe they conduct some of the most useful research around and I trust it a lot more than I do public opinion inferences from sundry commercial market research studies.

It is also important to note that I generally trust polling numbers in China that discuss individual outlook on the world.  I think they may be infused with pride and boosterism, but I can account for that in my read.

I think it is quite interesting to note the satisfaction Chinese people have with their country’s direction, and yet their satisfaction with their household income is the lowest of the countries I’ve highlighted here.  That seems like a powerful combination that demonstrates a country motivated to achieve.

Public Opinion & Spin Control in China

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

hujintao

Quite a few blog entries and articles have been posted around the web regarding the CCP’s initiative to “channel public opinion.”  Authors mainly cite two pieces of information:

a) Hu Jintao’s June 20, 2008 speech on the role of news media organizations in undertaking a dialogue between the Party/Government and the public.

b) An August 13, 2009 publication of the All-China Journalist’s Association that discusses guidelines & recommendations for certain agencies that may need to respond to sudden public rancor.

The more I read about the activity of “channeling” in China (kudos to HKU’s China Media Project), the more I start to think of government “spin” in the United States.  China can’t control public opinion, and I believe they don’t seek to do so anymore as much as influence it.  Like any government, it wants to have its version of the story told.

I used to think that the Party had an unfair advantage because it controls the fourth estate so absolutely, but to see the widespread usage of and engagement of internet BBS, Blogs, and SMS information exchange, that sense of unfairness has eased.  And after living through US media coverage of our own government these past 8 years, I don’t find myself as fervently believing our own media’s independence which affects how I view the Party’s efforts at spin control.

For the most part, I view the efforts by the PRC government to build “channeling” skills as an effort to rid propaganda departments of stodgy tired phrases and rigid stubborn personalities.

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Keeping Up with Public Opinon In China – The Party’s Dilemma

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

womanHow does the Chinese public know what it thinks?  My own characterization of the last 30 years posits three stages of evolution:

1) from the Communist Party and government institutions telling the population what to think,

to 2) telling them what they’d like them to think,

to 3) telling them what they are thinking.

This latest stage coincides with the now ubiquitous activity of public opinion surveys in the PRC.

The Communist Party does not see itself as omniscient.  It actively needs to get a read on the population and balance public attitudes and perceptions against the Party’s own interests.  Since the Party’s basic interest is the retention of power and social stability, it can use public opinionto  engage in a dialogue of sorts with the public.  But assessing public opinion is getting harder these days, and it moves at a faster pace than traditional polling can sometimes keep up with.

The China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong provided a translation of a very insightful article that explains how the Party and government agencies believe public opinion can sometimes be a crisis.  The crisis articulated in the article is one of ability to react to meet or confront the opinion.  The root of this is the manner in which opinion can be expressed via the internet or mobile phones – general word of mouth.  Consensus for action among a subset of the population can be reached before the Party and government even understand the root cause.

people shouting

I found this all the more interesting in light of a speech given by Hu Jintao that Drew Thompson of the Nixon Center wrote about

in his most recent paper on responses to refugee crises in the PRC.  In the paper, Drew highlights the new emergency response

planning that China has implemented which I connect to mass issue incidents that are directly related to crises of public opinion.

While I have moments of viewing this evolution with optimism and pessimism, it is, of course, only half the story because public opinion expressed through surveys and digital communication reflects only the urban and sub-urban population mindset.  There are still another 600 Million individuals who don’t have the same benefit of voice that the 700 Million wired/wireless population has.

To Be Continued….