Category Archives: China

Geopolitical Sustentation 31: China and the New Silk Road

As per our damnation post last year, as part of it’s Grand Strategy, China has recreated the Silk Road, which has been active since November 18, 2015 when the first train left the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province for a warehouse complex in Madrid, which it reached on December 9th. And it’s not going to stop until it crosses all of China and connects the entirety of Europe and Asia.

And when we say it’s not going to stop, we mean it. As per an article on Forbes on January 21, 2016 on how China is Moving Mountains for the New Silk Road – Literally, they won’t even let mountains get in the way. Four years ago, the entirety of the downtown Lanzhou New Area (LNA) was hundreds of mountaintops, which have been removed to make flat land for development. That’s right, they cut down mountains. In North America, it’s sometimes a massive undertaking just to flatten a few hills for a flat highway. They brought in the equipment and manpower to flatten mountains! If that doesn’t show you how serious they are about trade domination, I don’t know what will.

China is in the midst of implementing its OBOR (One-Belt, One-Road) initiative that will facilitate the creation of a gargantuan network of new highways, rail lines, logistics and industrial zones, pipelines, power plants, sea ports, and even entirely new cities that will stretch from East Asia to Western Europe, span over 60 countries, and impact over half of the world’s GDP, putting an end to US dominance once and for all. (The OBOR initiative also has a sea route, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, that goes through the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, which also connects China to all of Africa (and the Middle East), giving them access to the entirety of 3 of the 6 populated continents and 6/7ths of the world’s population!

China is not only an emerging economy, it is the emerging economy that will soon be powering, directly or indirectly, almost 2/3rds of GDP when the silk road is completed and it has it’s hooks across 3 continents.

And, as we said in our damnation post, China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.

So how do you prepare for it?

1. Learn Mandarin

Chances are your China partners will speak better English than you will speak Mandarin, but any attempt to seriously learn their language will be seen as a sign of respect and good faith and go a long way in negotiations. And even if you aren’t the negotiator, you will be able to communicate with almost 1 Billion native speakers. (That’s roughly twice as many native English speakers.)

2. Model your source-to-sink Euro-Asiatic supply chain.

Don’t just model the inbound supply chain, model the outbound too – and when you do your network design, strategic sourcing, and logistics models, try to find the best locations for storing inbound and outbound materials and products, for manufacturing to take advantage of a strong network design, and to minimize import/export/FTZ requirements and logistics network length. Long gone are the days when you are sourcing from China to sell in the US. Now you are sourcing from China to sell to the world, China included, so why manufacture in Malaysia to ship back to China. You need to take your supply chain and sourcing optimization to the next level. (Which is something the Six Samurai can help you with from a sourcing perspective.)

3. Treat your Big China Suppliers as Strategic Partners

Even if you are convinced they don’t understand your business model, the American marketplace, and the global consumer and even if you are convinced that their only goal is to rip you off at every turn (because you are paranoid or your golf course buddy found one of the scammers, which there are in every country), they know their local market and their own preferences better than you. And even if China is not a market today, if your company needs growth, chances are it will have to be tomorrow and you will need their guidance, and possibly even their innovation capability. So get ahead of your competition in their books.

Now, more will be required, but this should put you on the right track, er, road. The silk road. Which will again be the centre of global trade.

The New China – The New Global Meltdown?

Last year, China overtook the US as the world’s largest economic powers measured by PPP — Purchasing Power Parity. This may have received little attention, as most people focus on GDP — Gross Domestic Product — where the US still has a commanding lead, but since PPP measures the relative value of different currencies, this is a significant metric.

As a result, this places China at the centre of the global economy as any economic decline in China will send ripples around the world. As one of the biggest consumers of natural resource, the success of many global economies depends on the success of China and its need for natural resources.

And this decline may be coming. As per this recent article over on Business Spectator that asked what can we expect from China in 2014, not only has the country lost some of its lustre as of late, but this tarnish on the silver has not escaped the watchful eye of the World Bank, whose chief Economist went on record last month stating that the global economy is running on a single engine … the American one. This does not make for a rosy outlook for the world.

So why the loss of lustre after almost three decades of growth? Simply put, with rapid growth in an economy comes rapid growth in the growing pains associated with rapid growth, which typically include burgeoning local and national government(s) (as cities, provinces, and federal overseers struggle to keep up with growth), excess industrial capacity (once the tipping point where there is enough capacity to meet demand is reached), and a stagnant real estate sector (once the majority of the market that can afford their own homes have them). China has all of these problems. But that’s not the reason that China is loosing its lustre, as many other countries, including the US, have these problems. The real reason is shadow banking.

There is a significant amount of local government and corporate debt in China as these local governments and corporations have borrowed heavily from both the banking and shadow banking sectors to finance their growth. How significant? Standard & Poor’s estimates that total outstanding corporate debt in China was around $14.2 Trillion US at the end of 2013, compared to $13.1 Trillion US debt held by American corporations at the same time. And while exact numbers are not known, local government debt has increased an average of 20% over the last three years and the total government debt level in China is estimated as about 54% of China’s GDP — and that’s just the official debt. The real debt level could be higher when you consider shadow banking and private lenders.

Now, this is a lot of debt, but as the level of government debt is not yet at the level of US national debt or UK national debt which exceeds GDP, it’s not alarming — yet. But it’s enough to cause the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to think twice about China’s rating and if China decides that it’s time to reign in and get the debt under control and significantly curbs spending across the board, a lot of economies that are currently being boosted by China’s spending spree are going to take a big hit.

This will be good and bad news for your Supply Management activities, depending upon where you are in the supply chain. If a company loses a major China supplier, the power shifts back to the buyer and there will be good deals to be negotiated. However, if you lose a major China client and your demand declines, so does your bargaining power and the power shifts back to the supply base. And then there’s the currency hedging to think about. Is the expected drop in currency exchange good or bad for you? (For more about this issue, refer back to our currency damnation post.)

Geopolitical Damnation #31: China and the New Silk Road

China is arguably, and simultaneously, the world’s oldest culture and the world’s newest mega-economy and super-power. Not only does China have the 2nd largest GDP in the world, but it is one of only 4 countries that are net international creditors (the other three being Norway, Luxumbourg, and Switzerland). In comparison, the US, with the largest GDP (of slightly less than 18 Trillion), has an external debt that is roughly 18 Trillion. (In other words, it’s debt now exceeds its annual GDP!)

It’s also the world’s most populous country with 1.35 Billion people and the second largest country by land area. It has the world’s third longest river, 14,500 kilometers (or 9,000 miles) of coast lines, approximately 130 ports open to foreign ships, over 11,000 kilometers (or 6,800 miles) of rail, and over 180 commercial airports. It’s rail network and ships transport a significant percentage of the world’s global trade and traffic is still increasing annually.

China is no longer the emerging economy of the 80s and 90s that you outsourced to and imported from — now it is the emergent economy that is outsourcing to Brazil (to serve the North American Market, consider Foxconn) and Africa (to serve the European market). And, for most multi-nationals, it’s their newest, and most promising (and potentially most profitable) market. China already has over 220 billionaires, and this number increases annually. (The US has 442.)

And as a result, China is turning the traditional sourcing world topsy-turvy — especially now that the New Silk Road (China’s Grand Strategy has been operational for eight weeks. (Source: UNZ) As described in the UNZ article, and on SI last fall (in What Impact Will The New Silk Road Have on Global Trade?, for e.g.), this 13,000 km railroad that crosses China from East to West and then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain enables trade across most of Eurasia. And when the high-speed rail is complete, transport from China to Europe will take even less time than it does now. And China, which is home to 7 of the world’s top 10 container ports and which serves up air cargo that represents more than one-third of global trade value (even though only 1% by weight), will control even more of global trade then it does now! While also being your biggest customer.

You can’t deal with China in the old way anymore. Gone are the days when they were the low cost provider that needed your business. Gone are the days when you could fall back on Mexico. And gone are the days when you never needed to worry about the China market. Now they are a lower cost provider, due to their increases in efficiency (just like Japan increased in efficiency after WWII), but they don’t need your business. They have money and they have the world to sell you. Because Mexico was almost abandoned for China, there are few factories left that can produce modern electronics and none that can produce the volume to equal a Foxconn. And with most markets stagnant, China is one of your few opportunities for growth. Moreover, the supplier you are negotiating with to produce your cell phones for Engineering might be the same supplier your sales team is negotiating with to buy IT’s new mobile factory management software suite.

In other words, when China is across the table, they are not a vendor or supplier that can be beaten down with old-school hard-ball negotiation (even if they historically put melamine in the milk, lead in the paint, and who knows what in the pet food) — they are a partner, and equal, and must be approached as such. Even if you never sell to them, you might sell to one of their partners, and they talk just like we do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be determined in your negotiations — as you should always fight for the best deal — but be fair, realistic, and base your demands on fact and should-cost models, not empty threats or baseless demands for unreasonable cost reductions.

China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.

On the Subject of Trade Treaties, Continued

On Tuesday, when we noted that Russian (Border) Trade Agreements are nothing new, we pointed out that it was the Six Hundred and Ninety First anniversary of the Treaty of Noteborg. Then, yesterday, when we wrote on the subject of Historical Trade Treaties, we noted that it was the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, also known as the Convention of London.

The reason for these posts were to point out a number of things:

  • Trade, Treaties, and Embargoes are nothing new,
  • Today’s trade agreements and partners are not necessarily tomorrow’s trade agreements and partners,
  • The outcomes are not always what you would expect.

Trade, Treaties, and Embargoes are nothing new

Written peace treaties, with economic ramifications, have been around for at least 4,500 years. For example, archaeologists have found clay cylinders dating from about 2,500 BC that record a treaty between the two Sumerian cities of Lagash and Umma that were looted 18 miles apart. The second cylinder describes a one-time penalty of 144,000 gur of grain that Umma had to pay Lagash.

And while the Continental System was one of the most comprehensive attempts at an embargo throughout all of history, the concept of an embargo, which is the partial or complete prohibition of commerce and trade with a particular country, the origin of the embargo is in the blockade, which was initially designed to cause military exhaustion and starvation, but which evolved over time to target the populace (to build internal dissension in the enemy) as well as the military. And blockades have been around for over 2,500 years. For example, back in 458 BCE, the Athenians blockaded the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf during the first Peloponnesian War.

Trading Agreements and Partners are in constant flux

A trading agreement generally only lasts as long as the agreement is beneficial to both parties. Once it is no longer beneficial, one of three things will generally happen:

  • it will be executed minimally to completion, if it ends soon,
  • it will be renegotiated, if it doesn’t end soon but both parties want to maintain a relationship, or
  • it will be broken, and one or both parties will risk penalty or retaliation because they feel it can’t be worse than the current agreement.

The outcomes of a Trade Agreement, Treaty, or Embargo are not always what you expect

In the case of an agreement, the agreement might go exactly as planned. The first party might deliver to the second party the exact quantity of goods specified for the exact duration specified in the agreement, and then stop. The agreement might work out so good for both parties that they double down and trade even more. Or, it might work out so bad that they almost immediately negotiate an end to the agreement.

In the case of a treaty, it might strengthen relations or it might weaken relations.

But in the case of an embargo, the exact opposite of what is desired can happen. It might be the case that all parties in the coalition respect the embargo and stop trading the designated goods and services to the party for which the embargo applies. And it might be the case that some parties in the coalition refuse to respect the embargo and continue to trade with the embargoed party anyway.

But even if the first case is the reality, it is not necessarily the case that the embargo will have the desired effect. It could be the case that the embargo, designed to weaken a party, actually strengthens a party. Sometimes the ancient* proverb is right and the enemy of my enemy is my friend and the embargo, instead of hurting the intended party, causes them to strengthen their trading relationship with another party and makes two parties you want weakened stronger.

And, going back to Tuesday’s post, just like the Continental System backfired on France, as it only made Britain and Russia stronger when Russia started trading with them again in 2010, any embargoes on Russia, which is no longer the Super Power they once were, is just going to backfire on any western country that hopes that the embargo is going to weaken Russia. All the embargo is going to do is strengthen Russian ties with its Middle Eastern and Asian neighbours, and China in particular. The New Silk Road will be here sooner than you think.

So what does this mean for your Supply Management Organization?

* An early expression of this concept is found in a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft dating to the fourth century BC.

Russian (Border) Trade Agreements Are Nothing New

So why is everyone fretting about the $20 Billion Oil Deal between Iran and Russia? Yes, it delivers another blow to the US-based petro-dollar, but is it really any worse than China and it’s efforts to not only reign in the value of the western dollar but control the valuation of its yen at the same time? We should not forget that the GDP of China is more than FOUR times that of Russia and that Russia and Iran used to be neighbours. Even though Russia is now two countries away from Iran border-wise — as it now borders Kazakhstan which borders Turkmenistan which borders Iran — it wasn’t always this way. The Russian Empire began to expand into what is present day Kazakhstan back in 1813 and essentially all of present day Kazakhstan was annexed by 1907. Similarly, Turkmenistan was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881 and became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1924, only regaining its independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And Russia has a long history of either conquering, annexing, trading, or negotiating with its neighbours. For example, 691 years ago today, the Treaty of Noteborg was signed between Sweden and Novgorod (present day Russia, more or less), and for the first time the border between the two countries was regulated. The conclusion of the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, the treaty awarded three Karelian parishes to Sweden who, in return, would stay out of the conflict between Novgorod and Narva (present day Estonia, more or less). In addition, both sides would refrain from building castles on the new border. So it should be no surprise that, given the opportunity to reclaim Crimea — and to do so relatively peacefully — that Russia took it or that they took the opportunity to trade with Iran on local terms.

But it’s not worth fretting about. One has to look at the bigger picture. When it comes to the BRIC, Russia is essentially the weakest player. India has considerably more population and a long-term outlook of becoming a top 5 GDP player. Brazil has a larger GDP (by as much as 20%) and very bright prospects as the new near-shoring destination for North America. And China has 4 times the GDP, 9 times the population, and a heck of a lot more clout when it comes to global trade!

So don’t fret about a 20 Billion Oil deal, the return of what is essentially a small province to Russia, or the fact that Russia has agreed to pay China in domestic currency. It’s a drop in the bucket. The real shocks to global trade will come from China and the new Silk Road they are building.

Don’t get caught up in the meaningless media frenzy focused on Russia. Just because the media has forgotten that the cold war is over doesn’t mean we should.