Sino-US trade continues to get a lot of attention in Washington, particularly in light of North Korea’s relentless missile testing. And trade between China and the US continues to be characterized as a unilateral issue—from Chinese factories to US consumers.
In reality, however, Chinese companies have now made direct investments in every US state and most congressional districts. From 2000 to Q2 of 2017 Chinese companies have invested $135 billion in the US, reaching $3.4 billion in 2012 alone. Most of these investments have been in US manufacturing assets and have resulted, by one estimate, in more than 140,000 US jobs on American soil.
While it has become increasingly common to hear of American friends and family who now work for Chinese companies in the US, moreover, American companies continue to reap the benefits of China’s economic miracle.
McDonald’s has 2,200 stores in China and sells 1,600 hamburgers every minute. Walmart has close to 450 stores there, employing roughly 100,000 people. (wal-martchina.com), and that’s not counting Walmart’s extensive sourcing operations there.
General Motors, which has, in many ways, been the poster child for the declining US middle class, has 60,000 employees in China (gmchina.com), roughly 1/3 of its total global workforce. It plans to open, moreover, five new manufacturing plants in China in 2018, and sell close to 5 million vehicles there, almost half of its vehicle sales worldwide. (https://www.gm.com/company/about-gm.html)
It seems quite unlikely, therefore, that American industry will line up behind any attempt to start a trade war with China. And while there may appear to be some poetic justice in giving American companies that moved production out of the US their due, the trend has gone on for too long for a correction to do anything but further compromise the interests of American workers. Imagine what would happen to the GM jobs that remain in the US if the company were to find itself unwelcomed in China today?
The more likely scenario, once the heated rhetoric out of Washington dies down, is that there will be more and more direct Chinese investment on American soil. Wage rates are not as punitive as they once were, largely for the wrong reasons, energy is cheaper in the US than anyplace else on the planet, and local governments are lining up to shower new investments with taxpayer largesse in the form of infrastructure improvements, job training, and tax avoidance.
And what if you are one of those Americans that find you are working for a Chinese company in the future? Well, generalities are always risky, but here are a few pieces of advice:
1. Your Chinese employers will be laser-focused on one thing: results. They will care far less about programs, processes, and general initiatives that are often accompanied by acronyms, posters in the cafeteria, and tee shirts.
2. Your benefits may actually improve. Chinese companies, for example, provide far better maternity benefits than most US companies.
3. Words carry less weight to the inductively minded Chinese than they typically do in the West. Keep this in mind when you find yourself on either side of a communication.
4. The rules of socially acceptable personal questions are quite different. The Chinese will not hesitate to ask you how much you make or how much you paid for your home. They will not expect you to ask them personal questions about their marital status or family size, however. And they will certainly not expect you to invite them to your home.
5. Any questions you may have on issues of work/life balance will be accepted politely but are unlikely to register.
6. The investment horizon for those involved in capital projects will be measured in months, not years.
7. Cash is king. They are likely to have little tolerance for throwing good money after bad, no matter how confident you may be in the ultimate payback of your idea.
8. The inscrutable expressions you are likely to encounter among your Chinese colleagues can be very misleading. The Chinese are far less retentive than perceived and quite comfortable in being downright silly.
9. The Chinese consider Americans to be excessively polite. We’re always saying please and thank you. They are not so inclined and sometimes interpret our behavior in this regard to be a bit suspect.
10. Don’t expect a lot of “hi’s”/”hello’s” in the hallways. They are often baffled by our willingness to acknowledge total strangers. They generally divide people into two groups: Those they have a relationship with and are thus obligated to,and 2. Those they don’t. In essence these people don’t exist.
As luck would have it, I just got off the phone with a gentleman about to interview with a Chinese company. He is of European background and I summarized my experience as thus: I have worked with businesses around the world and the parallels I would draw are that in terms of personal culture, the Chinese are closest to the Latin cultures, particularly Mexico. In terms of business culture, however, I always found the Chinese to be closest to the Dutch. Both are very forthright and matter of fact.
On balance, I believe the Chinese and American economies will continue to mutually integrate. And that will be a good thing.
Keep an open mind. And remember what Confucius said: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
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