Category Archives: China

A Slow Cautious Approach to Pulling Out of China May Be Justified …

… but the justification has NOTHING to do with geopolitical events or economic factors, as suggested by this recent SCMR article. First of all, those are always in flux. Secondly, neither of these factors are the ones that could be limiting your ability to peel out.

There are two primary factors that could be limiting your ability to peel out of China:

  1. available production capability
  2. source material availability

And these are the only factors you should be considering when you are considering how [do] you reconfigure the global supply chain. Because, unless you are selling in Asia, you HAVE to get out of China if you want stable supply streams.

Available Production Capability

First of all, are there alternative near-shore plants? If not, you’re stuck until you (co-)invest in one, get it built, get it up and running, and verify the quality is acceptable. If there are, can they produce the products you need in the quantities you need, or at least a reasonable percentage? If so, are the quality and service levels sufficient. If there are three or more near-shore suppliers that can collectively meet your needs, you shift a considerable amount of your award to them immediately (depending on existing contracts, the time-frames for the suppliers to fully ramp up to support your business, and the time-frames your organization needs to get ready to support the shift) and start the process of shifting all of your award to them.

Source Material Capability

You also have to consider where the raw materials are coming from, and how easy it will be for your suppliers to get sufficient stacks of the materials you need in steady supply. For example, if you need lithium-ion batteries produced by current processes, you need cobalt. 73% of today’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Cobalt (DRC). The DRC has considerable trade agreements with Qatar. So while the country has bilateral trade agreements with over 50 countries, its relationship with Qatar could cause you problems if you want to use a producer in the middle east NOT in Qatar if another diplomatic crisis (like the one in 2017) arises.

Also, China is the largest producer of grains, gold, coal, rare earth minerals, and two hundred (200) plus other materials, components, and products, so if your production depends on any of these materials, components, or products, you need to make sure your suppliers are located in countries who have good relations with China or have already locked up enough secondary sources to guarantee your product production will be uninterrupted.

That’s it. Yes, you have to consider the economics, because you can’t pay 50% more and not seriously upset (and lose) your (current and potential) customers with the price increase that will result, but with proper investments in new processes, equipment, and talent, costs can be reduced anywhere in the world, and all it will take for the potential supplier to make these investments is enough guaranteed business from you. (So make it so!)

How Do You Reconfigure the Global Supply Chain? That’s Easy!

Ever since the pandemic, there’s been quite a few articles about this despite the fact we’ve known the answer for well over a decade. (Or at least SI was giving away the answer, for free, over a decade ago, even though it seems no one was listening.) Or at least some of use have known the answer for well over a decade. So why was no one listening? Why is the answer still not well known? Is it not clear? Is the new generation not looking on their own and wanting the answer spoon fed to them? Are the articles with the solution either too generic, too politically correct, too vague or not actionable?

It’s hard to say, but to make sure this article is not too generic, not too politically correct, not too vague, and not inapplicable, we’re going to be very, very specific, as politically incorrect as possible, as to the point as possible, and actionable in our messaging. And we’re going to keep it as short and sweet as possible so that the message will be clearly understood.


Unless you are selling the product to China (/Asia), when sourcing,

It’s that simple.


Risk Mitigation 101 for Buyers is to have two sources of supply because risk mitigation 101 in systems design is no single point of failure. But over the last three decades, we have built a global supply chain where all roads simultaneously end in China and start in China. When there isn’t a single product you buy where a component or raw material doesn’t get produced or processed in China, it doesn’t matter that you use two different distributors or manufacturers for the product as the choke point is still China. Thus, if the factories or ports shut down because of China’s ridiculous “zero tolerance” policy to an unstoppable epidemic (which is not even as lethal as the bird flu if a large majority of your population that can be safely vaccinated is vaccinated); if the shipping industry gets overloaded due to a lack of ships, workforce (see yesterday’s article on how strikes are going to be your biggest source of supply chain disruptions for the next decade), or containers (which happens, especially since there are way more ships carrying goods from China than carrying goods to China, semi full ships will not load containers to take back until completely empty, and this results in many ships sailing back mostly empty); or critical commodities or utilities expected locally become temporarily unavailable to the factory, you, and everyone else in the world relying on that product, are shut down.

There’s a reason that North America used to primarily source products not made in the USA from Mexico or South America. If there was a disruption, you found out sooner. If a factory had a fire, you could fly in, assess the damage, and send in your engineers to help fix it — quickly. If not, you weren’t far from alternate suppliers you could fly down to assess, and if suitable, negotiate with. If there was a transportation backup, it was easier to clean up — you weren’t waiting for ships, you just sent down more trucks or ordered more rail cars.

And the answer should now be obvious:

  • Home-source anything that can be grown / mined / produced at reasonable economy of scale in multiple geographically separated locations in your home “region” (i.e. multiple states in the US; multiple connected countries in the EU)
  • Near-source anything that can grown / mined / produced at reasonable economy of scale in a relatively near-by country or region connected by land where the product can be shipped by rail and truck (Mexico / Central America / Northern parts of South America for the US)
  • Far-(Over-Sea)-Source only what can’t be home-sourced or near-sourced, which should just be raw materials or small components (i.e. there’s no excuse to be manufacturing and importing washing machines, refrigerators, and cars which are super bulky and weighty when there are only a few core components that need extreme specialization [where it would be hard to find another / build a new factory] or materials that need to be processed pre-transport

Which means that if you are sourcing for the Americas, the amount of sourcing that you should be doing from China is likely about 10% of what you’re actually doing, which, at the end of the day, gave you short term savings in exchange for long term debt including, but not limited to:

  • customer churn and angst
    (happy customers seeing value fork over $$$ a lot faster and in greater amounts than those that aren’t, and they aren’t happy when they don’t get their products on time)
  • constantly increasing transportation costs
    containers went from < 5K to > 30K during the height of COVID, and while they have come back down, they’re still 30% to 50% more on average, and since most ocean going vessels still use HFO (the dirtiest oil there is, FYI), and the global port strikes are resulting in significant wage increase (partially due to significant inflation in many countries), they’re going to keep going up, especially once you factor in those
  • high carbon taxes
    (everything you make in China is dirty and the shipping is even dirtier)
  • high IP theft …
    even if most of the products don’t make it out of China, everything you produce in China is copied … everything … and some of the copies are now so good, even high end stores in the US are getting fooled!
  • limited options …
    many of your best options went out of business over the last two decades as you believed the overpriced consultants with their false promises that the savings would last forever (but nothing lasts forever …)
  • increased disruptions
    due to the soon to be three-fold increase in natural disasters annually since the China craze began in the late eighties/early nineties (which is projected to be five fold within a decade or so)

On the flip-side, many of the factories you used to use are still where they were. The workforce is still there. The potential is still there. All you have to do is invest in it. It may mean a partial return to the vertically integrated company where you own (part) of your supplier, as you may have to re-enter into co-opetition through conglomerates where you and a group of your peers each minority invest in a new entity to bring that factory back online (or build a new one), but nothing is stopping you. And it might take a year or two (or three) to bring it back, but you can do it, and greatly reduce your supply chain risk in the long term. And, to make it a bit more personal, when you do this, just like Justin, you will have brought SexyBack

In short:

Unnecessary Outsourcing, especially Unnecessary Overseas Outsourcing, broke the supply chain. If you want to fix it, JUST STOP!

To be fair, we should point out that this article is aimed at the primary readership of this blog, which is North America / (Western) Europe as well as the continents of Australia, South America, and Africa. This article is NOT aimed at Asia, because China is part of Asia, which means if you are buying to support an Asian market, in this situation you should be buying from China (and Fuck the Americas), as per our qualifying assertion near the beginning of this article.

2030 is too late for Center-Led Procurement!

Especially since 2020 was too late! And organizations should have been there by then since center-led procurement was being discussed as the next generation model in the mid-2000s and, more importantly, as the futurists were predicting that the future of work, and companies, was remote and distributed last decade, every company should be “center-led” by now.

(Note that we mean “center-led” and not “centralized” where one central office handles all major procurement projects globally. We mean center-led where a centralized function determines the best procurement path for each category — which could be centralized, distributed, multi-level, or mixed — and provides guidance to all of the global teams and makes sure they build the right procurement — and supply chain — models up front.)

In fact, by now, all organizations should be working off of a virtual center-led model where the “center” is the Procurement A-Team, where the members could literally be spread out over the 6 continents to “locally” absorb the situations in each geography before making decisions and to always have someone available to answer questions on not just a follow-the-sun but follow-the-local-business hours model.

And while virtual / remote / distributed work still seems to be an entirely new thing that most companies didn’t think of before the pandemic and that most companies are trying to eliminate entirely now that the pandemic has been declared over (even though the next pandemic is just around the corner and, yet again, no one is prepared for it), those of us in IT and Supply Chain have been doing it for two decades (and the doctor has been primarily been working remote for the past 19 years — the tech has been there, and has worked, for two decades … and now that high speed is in just about every urban area globally, there’s no reason a hybrid/virtual model cannot work and work well).

The reality is that the pandemic not only brought global supply chains crashing down but brought to light the high risk embedded in them a few of us saw a decade ago, which went beyond the obvious risks of “all your eggs in one basket” (even though Don Quixote was published in 1605) and “The Bermuda Triangle*1, but also included the risks of relatively centralized procurement where one team in one part of the globe made the all-our-eggs-in-the-China-basket*2 and managed the relationship with one team at one factory in another part of the globe; so if either team got completely locked down with little remote/virtual support (and we saw some countries limit people to 1KM from their homes and China lock down entire cities and not even let people leave their apartments), the entire chain was shut down even beyond the worst case that some of us were envisioning a decade ago (and made our definitions of bad — which was factory goes out of business, shipping lane closes, or ship sinks — look good by comparison because, at least then, you could still go to work and travel to find a new factory, organize a new lane, or spin up the factory 24/7 until you remade the order).

However, with virtual center-led, you not only have a team that knows how to work distributed and remote, and who knows how to use that setup to better mitigate operational risks, but who also has a risk-mitigation mindset that any supply base should also be distributed and different locations remote from each other (two factories in the same town is not risk-mitigation; an earthquake destroys the roads, the entire town gets quarantined, or political borders shut and its effectively one cut-off source of supply) and will help the different parts of the organization design more risk-adverse, or at least risk-aware, supply chains — tapping into local expertise in each part of the world to make the best decision and allowing the organization to move management of the chain around as needed and local teams (because you’re not sourcing your Canadian snow-plow and igloo building services from India, for example) to always have remote access to guidance and best practices in snow-removal services RFP construction (and know how from Norway and Japan).

In other words, center-led procurement (of which you can find a lot of guidance on in the archives here and over on Spend Matters, especially since, now retired, Peter Smith of Spend Matters UK was a guru on this as well as sustainability) of the virtual kind is what you need to be doing now if you want to last until 2030.


*1 which, while statistically no more dangerous than any other part of the oceans, exemplifies the fact that even the biggest ships, with an entire year of your inventory on board, can sink, especially when oceanographers have finally realized [even though mathematicians working with wave models understood this concept decades ago] that rogue waves are not a once a in decade occurrence, but a DAILY occurrence on this planet, it’s just that the ocean is so big that the fraction ever covered by ships is so microscopic that the chances of any ship encountering a rogue wave are infinitesimal on a ship-by-ship basis)

*2 likely thanks to McKinsey, although many of the Big 5/6/8 followed suit quickly thereafter and proclaimed China the future

Sustainable Supply Chains Sacrifice China! (Most of the Time.)

Last Friday we posted China is the Enemy because, especially where your supply chain is concerned, China has just demonstrated what SI has known for over a decade — it is the enemy. (This isn’t the only situation where China or the CCP is the enemy, but those are different rants. Note that we do NOT equate China or CCP with Chinese people. Most Chinese are NOT the enemy of your supply chain or democracy just like most Americans are NOT the enemy of intelligence and common sense.)

Long time readers will know that in the naughts, SI spent a lot of bandwidth telling your deaf ears that you should be investing heavily in nearshoring and home country sourcing because of the dangers of outsourcing in general, and, the dangers of oversourcing to a specific country, like China, in particular — which have finally become very apparent. It’s too bad it took a freakin’ pandemic to make clear how dangerous it is to outsource so many critical products and JIT materials to a country halfway around the globe, especially when such sourcing in bulk across the industry leads to the lack of capacity close to home due to factory closures and talent evaporation.

There’s a reason the doctor told you two weeks ago to remember the 80’s (and the early 80s in particular) … and that’s because that’s the last time most multi-national corporations in the Americas got outsourcing right … when they were near-sourcing to Mexico (who should build the wall just to keep Trump out, but that’s yet another rant for another day).

Let’s face it, some stuff just shouldn’t be sourced from home. Stuff that’s not critical, stuff that’s very expensive to make at home (but easily trucked across a single border) for various reasons (which can go beyond labour to energy costs if there are no affordable renewable sources nearby, transportation costs for raw or unprocessed materials are ridiculous otherwise, etc.), or stuff where most of the raw materials or necessary environmental conditions (for growing, mining, etc.) are just not present at, or near, home.

But when you consider a typical organization, how much stuff really falls into this category? First of all, you have to exclude any product for (re)sale that’s a primary profit line. Then you need to exclude any raw material or component critical to production unless you just can’t get it nearby. Then any product necessary for security or safety. And so on. At the end of the day, you don’t have much left, and if you’re doing the analysis right, you’re going to be left with:

  • raw materials and products just not available nearby (because you need certain growing conditions, large deposits of a mineral only found in certain geographies, etc.)
  • processed materials or chemicals where the raw materials are very expensive or dangerous to transport
  • products unique to a culture or region
  • novelty or other items not critical to your business

which (before the short-sighted wall-street loving common sense hating clueless and unskilled consultants of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like Steve Castle, put everything into the outsourcing bandwagon and blinged it out beyond belief) were the only products a company would outsource halfway around the world and still the only products a company should be sourcing from halfway around the world. Everything else should be near-sourced, and if really critical or the cost differential is small, home-sourced.

This also means that just shifting everything to another country in the BRIC, and India (which is ruled by a more open, transparent, and dependable democracy) in particular, is also NOT the answer. (They may not be the enemy, but they are still NOT the answer.)

So, unless you want your Supply Chain to completely collapse after the next global disaster, go back to basics, remember the smart outsourcing decision from the 80s, reopen those Mexican factories, and start near-sourcing again. And then, where you can, bring it back (close to) home.

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.