Since the reforms some years ago, the general rule of thumb prevailed to all citizens was "don't intervene in our leadership and we will not intervene in your business endeavors". This started what many consider the biggest boon of domestic growth and prosperity in modern history and fueled into overdrive with president Clinton's signing of the China Trade bill back in 2000. The trade bill opened mammoth Chinese markets to US business and would be the prequel for China to join the World Trade Organization. Over a year later, on Dec 2001, China became part of the WTO.
My college professor in database systems, Dr. Wei Sun, even took a sabbatical and left to China foreseeing the vast opportunities -- he never returned and even eventually relinquished his tenured position.
So this is allegedly positive for all, after all free markets cultivates innovation and survival of the fittest making better products accessible at an ever more affordable price.
So what's wrong? Fast forward to today, we have had enough time to realized China true ambitions in becoming an influential world power In the last decade, we've seen China launch humans into orbit, built their first aircraft carrier, & even recently launching their own global positioning satellite system similar to US' GPS and Russian's GLONASS.
From an outside perspective, this is all good and compares similarly to the benefits of local capitalism -- except at a world level. So what's wrong then? In a nutshell, by observation, China's goals seems to be:
- Securing and maintaining party rule (at all cost)
- Maximizing opportunities and employment for all citizens abiding by the ruling party (e.g. government is on your side if you abide)
- The dishonest control of their currency rather than letting it float freely in the markets
- The squelching of anything deemed a threat to either
- Long term becoming a world power with influence both politically, militarily, & monetarily.
And Apple is a victim of these goals and their recent spat with iPad trademark infringement as concluded later on in the post. Lets first discuss each of these points with some additional detail.
Securing and maintaining party rule at all costs.
It's clear China is extremely concerned about freedom of speech and expression. They incarcerate those who rally against the government. They force companies to censor sensitive topics such as Tianenmen square revolt. At one point this even clashed with Google's principle of don't be evil and consequently having to filter search results became more and more contrary to Google's principals of free and accessible information. The Google vs. China escalated to the point where Google redirected services from mainland china to Hong Kong servers (which are not restricted politically) however this didn't fare well with China and ultimately Google decided it was best to pull out of China all together. China currently disallows twitter, youtube, Facebook, & a whole slew of services which may help or empower unionization and eventual opposition to current government rule. The issues is so tightly controlled whereby China had sophisticated internet routers custom configured so they could control internet traffic -- effectively blocking any web site or service, country wide, with a flip of a switch. A prominent voice by the name of Liu Xiaobo (1) was almost the equivalent to the Chinese as Marin Luther King was to african americans. China incarcerated him on frivolous charges. The world, long aware of China's human right violations, took notice and even award Liu the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a defining moment in history when he was not able to receive personally the peace prize award; intentionally putting China on the spot internationally. His wife was also house arrested and was able to tweet for some time until she was also cut off from communication. I haven't followed up since then to see there status, but incidentally, internal China news media didn't mention the awarding and simply became another topic of suppression. China arrogantly decided to start their own peace price initiative months later and awarded Vladimir Putin the first Chinese peace price -- perhaps as an indication of how irrelevant these awards mean(2) or simply to obfuscate the the headlines a bit.
Maximizing opportunities and employment for all citizens abiding by the ruling party
Again, the government favors and even protects, as promised, those who express allegiance. As a consequence the ability to "making a living" has little boundaries and the government typically turns a blind eye to such violations such as copyright & trademark laws -- particularly intellectual property, music, software, and most forms of digital content. Software piracy at 82% (3) is just a subtle example. There are businesses literally officially open and selling copied movies, music, etc. in major shopping areas. This "do what you please and we won't bother you" mantra reached a whole new level when duplicate non-official Apple stores started popping up in many parts of china. These stores were a complete rip with Apple logo, employees dressed in the typical blue jerseys, identical floor layout and even identical product branding and marketing throughout (4). Go ahead and take a look yourself briefly before you continue reading:
Clearly the enforcement of trademarks and copyright are very lax if non-existent otherwise entrepreneurs would not take the capital risk in setting these stores up as they did. Put simply, China doesn't care and will even promote and help business sell and make a living. Promotion? Well, take this for example. Go on eBay and search for some items -- say an iPhone bumper case. Among all the listings, you'll see what looks like legitimate Apple bumper cases among them -- complete with the metallic buttons and all. Originally you could find both the white and black versions -- the ones Apple themselves sell at the Apple store, however as of late you can find all color variations except those two solid black and solid white ones. In either case, the same manufacturer who makes the bumper for Apple is directly or indirectly dumping inventory on eBay and making a killing. What I find striking here is how cheap the shipment direct from china is -- just 99 cents. You might think the price of the bumper subsidizes the shipment but I'm not sure how much room there is for subsidizing when the price of the item is also 99 cents. So, yes, you can buy a full iPhone bumper case for a mere $2 rather than the $30 at the Apple store. When the package arrived, it was indeed shipped via air mail directly from China. I really don't understand how any company can cost effectively make and ship a bumper case from half way around the world for $2. In my humble opinion we have government subsidizing somewhere in between -- all in the spirit to maximize opportunity and employment for Chinese citizens.
These are iPhone4's incased in original Apple bumper case and eBay 99 cent version. There is no discernible difference in build, craftsmanship, measurements, etc.
As another quick example, I ordered some new head phones on eBay recently, rather economically at $35 rather than the retail price of $99. The auction however has a "Make an Offer" option. So I did, at $30, and promptly received my headphones a few days later. This time however a note was included to buy them at another web site as ebay has closed their account for unspecified reasons. I'm presumably assuming the original manufacturer of the headphones is cracking down on illegitimate sales of their headphones.
In overall summary, China is allowing these products, manufactured for companies abroad and cranking up the assembly line to build extra for dumping on alternative channels of distribution for themselves. Here is a photo of the headphones and letter with enough resolution to read the letter if zoomed in.
There is no stopping blatant copyright and trademark infringement and China doesn't do much about it -- first in the digital world with music, videos, & software and now in the physical world with the dumping of these products on alternative distribution channels.
Part two of this post covering the items below will follow shortly:
The dishonest control of their currency rather than letting it float freely in the markets
The quelching of anything deemed a threat to either
Long term becoming a world power with influence both politically, militarily, & monetarily.
All references as of 2/14/2012