Investment: Going West isn’t necessarily the best move
‘Building a second Samsung in China’. That’s unprecedented,” Li said.
“Increasing research and development investment is a necessity, because only Chinese talent understands the local consumer market,” he said.
Although the best graduates from China’s many institutions head overseas for further study, or join government agencies and Stateowned enterprises, Samsung can still attract enough researchers because of the nation’s huge population, Li added.
Zhang Yilin, deputy managing director and president of the automotive unit of Schaeffler Greater China, said: “China’s research strength is increasing very fast. The enthusiasm of our researchers is stronger than that of their German peers. In a few years, the Chinese research center will overtake the German one, and the group has decided to make China the focus of some business.”
The company set up an R&D center in Shanghai with about 1,000 employees and an annual budget of about 4 percent of the company’s sales in China.
The well-developed infrastructure in the coastal area, with its dense transportation network and supporting industrial facilities, has been a strong draw for global investors.
Alexander Wortberg, director of production at Qoros Automotive Co Ltd, said: “The eastern city of Changshu is well-situated with good communications facilities, and it’s close to Shanghai and our customers. The city’s economic development zone is a perfect place to set up a plant, because it has very good infrastructure and qualified young people.
“Last but not least, we found very supportive partners. We have a lot of suppliers here,” Wortberg said.
Not every company is responding to the changing business environment in the same way. Ni Zugen, chairman of Lexy Electric Appliances Co Ltd, said the company may shift production facilities to Eastern Europe, rather than move to China’s inland regions.
“The monthly salary of a worker in Suzhou is about $600, while in central and western regions, it is about 500 yuan ($82) lower.
“But it’s not just labor. Transportation costs are also rising. As the renminbi keeps appreciating, we may shift plants to parts of Europe. For example, Turkey has an abundant and stable labor supply. Monthly salaries in Eastern Europe are about $500, lower than in China’s coastal area,” Ni said.
Zhu Yongquan, general manager of AU Optronics (Suzhou) Co Ltd, said that the panel maker won’t relocate its plants into inland areas or Southeast Asia, at least in the short term.
AU is a Taiwan-based manufacturer of liquid crystal displays and other items.
“The advantage of inland regions is in question, as the wage gap [compared with the east] has significantly narrowed from two or three years ago. And it’s much easier to get skilled workers in the eastern regions.
“What’s more important is industrial facilities. East China has developed complete industrial chains in recent decades, which cannot be duplicated elsewhere. The problem is the same in Southeast Asia, because it does not have sufficient qualified workers,” Zhu said.
Jarry Ma, plant manager of Fu Gang Electronic (Kunshan) Co Ltd, added that China’s “demographic dividend”, or labor advantage, has declined in recent years. Fu Gang Electronic is short-handed when big overseas orders arrive, which has driven the chip producer to automate.
Xu Cheng, administrative vice-director of Bosideng International Holdings Ltd and Shanghai Bosideng International Fashion Co Ltd, said: “We have moved some of our production to Vietnam, because the labor cost is much lower. But the fundamental market is still in China, which deserves to be better cultivated.”
Zhang from Schaeffler said the company is concerned about China’s overall economic performance and excess industrial capacity, as changes in the Chinese market are playing a bigger role in the group’s business performance.
“A couple of challenges are related to environment issues. China does not have advanced technology, and high-end talent isn’t available,” said Johansson from UPM. “Local resource companies cannot meet our safety standards. You have to watch over them,” he added.
China has pledged to make its investment environment better and improve the use of foreign investment, with the new leadership focused on economic upgrading, including the transformation of manufacturing.
“Even without the government’s encouragement for industrial transformation, we’d make the move anyway and use China as a strategic base. It may be better for the government to introduce support policies, such as including foreign enterprises in its talent incentive policies.
“What’s more, the government should maintain a level playing field when introducing new policies,” said Li from Samsung. Contact the writer at lijiabao@chinadaily. com.cn