By Josh Selig |

Last week an image flickered across my screen that captured, albeit unintentionally, the paradox that the US faces in its protracted and increasingly tense rivalry with China.

The image was from the South China Morning Post, where a headline heralded, “US public turns against China in worst poll savaging since last year’s record.”

Above the headline was an ad for Citibank, a leading US financial institution, which featured a smiling golden ox with a big round diamond in its belly. The ad’s text invited Chinese people to do their banking with Citibank.

Taken as a whole, the message from the two images was unmistakable: “China, we may not like you, but we noticed how well you’re doing, and so we really hope that you’ll bank with us.”

As much as some US politicians try to attribute China’s rise to various types of bad trade behavior, the fact is that China — thanks to Deng Xiaoping and the CPC —  has done an extraordinary job over the past 50 years transforming the country into a global economic and technological powerhouse that, along the way, lifted almost a billion Chinese out of poverty.

Rather than celebrating those great humanitarian achievements, the US prefers to throw eggs at a rising China due to what can only be described as a serious case of American sour grapes.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore recently told the BBC, “The US is still number one, but number two is not so far behind. That is what is difficult for the US to accept.”

It’s really no surprise that Citibank, one of the first global banks to become incorporated in China back in 2007, is ignoring the latest US polling on China but is paying close attention to their Chinese marketing.

To deny the ascending power of China and to forgo the benefits of engaging with the planet’s only growing economy, you’d have to be, well, a communist. And I don’t mean a new, progressive Chinese communist who readily embraces the free market, but I mean the old 1950s Soviet Union-style communist who doesn’t actually exist anymore.

Needless to say, I’m quite bullish on China, and so I’m certainly not criticizing Citibank’s efforts to get the Chinese to deposit their golden oxen into one of Citibank’s 47 local Chinese branches.

As most people understand by now, every leading brand in the world — from Apple to the NBA to Starbucks — not only works with China but depends heavily on China for its future growth.

I’ve been working on and off in China for decades, starting with the Chinese co-production of Sesame Streetback in the 1990s. More recently, I was the executive producer on P. King Duckling, an animated educational series that was co-produced with UYoung in Beijing and which premiered on Disney Junior in the US and CCTV in China.

Based on these and other experiences, I can say without hesitation that China is my favorite country in the world to do business with in 2021. Why? There are dozens of reasons, but I’ve narrowed it down to five:

Innovation: Yes, there was a time when the Chinese were still learning the ropes regarding developing their own proprietary intellectual property and technologies. Well, those days are gone. Walmart, the US retailer, recently announced that it will spend up to $25 billion to launch a super app that will be “inspired” by WeChat, the ubiquitous super app developed by Tencent, a Chinese tech company.

And Instagram, the US social media company owned by Facebook, last year introduced Reels, which looks and performs almost exactly like TikTok,the hugely popular app that was created by ByteDance, another Chinese tech company.

In fact, from AI to 5G to IPOs, China is now an established world leader. Innovation can be seen across most industries in China, but China is still portrayed as being a follower by many in the West.

Great business environment: International companies in China are overwhelmingly happy with their experience there. According to a recent American Chamber of Commerce survey, out of 345 US companies based in China, only 12 percent of them said the investment environment in China was deteriorating — the lowest number since the survey began in 2012 — and this in the midst of a heated US-China trade war.

Such positive momentum is likely to increase under the Biden administration. As AmCham China Chairman Greg Gilligan told the South China Morning Post, “I don’t feel that the new administration is increasing pressure on the relationship. To the contrary, we can expect some more normalized and more traditional measures of diplomacy.”

Market size: There are roughly 400 million people in China’s middle class. And there are more children in China than there are people in the US. For any company that calls itself global, gaining access to the Chinese market is a must. China welcomes most foreign companies, and they’ve made it easier — not harder — for international businesses to set up shop in China. There are now 21 Free Trade Zones (FTZs) across China, with three new FTZs added just last year. For those unfamiliar with FTZs, they are launched by regional governments, and they offer access to the local financial sector, facilitate trade and innovation, and promote development and reform to help international companies gain access to the Chinese market.

Healthy retail environment: Unlike in the US, the Chinese still love to shop in real stores. That has buoyed a number of international businesses that depend on retail for their very livelihood. One of many examples is LEGO, the Danish brickmaker, whose revenues increased 13 percent in 2020, the same year that rivals like Hasbro and Jakks saw big declines. Why did LEGO perform so well?  One of the reasons was China.

Of the 134 new retail stores that LEGO opened last year, 91 of them were in China. By contrast, this month Disney announced it will be closing 20 percent of its retail stores in the US. And, for the record, there are now zero Toys “R” Us stores in the US.

Stability: China’s rise over the past 50 years may have begun with Deng, but it’s been sustained by a leadership that sets clear, focused and actionable goals for China’s growth. According to a recent Harvard study, 90 percent of China’s population supports their leadership, an extraordinary figure for any country. China’s unified approach to governing — a unique amalgam of socialism, communism and capitalism — has proven its effectiveness in so many ways, from creating the world’s largest middle class to containing the spread of the coronavirus. It has also created stability, which is the essential precondition for running any kind of business.

I don’t imagine that my list of five reasons will surprise anyone who has actually lived or worked in China, nor will it surprise any Fortune Global 500 companies. In fact, since 2020, more Fortune Global 500 companies are located on the Chinese mainland than in the US. The only people who may be surprised are those who feel that that the US and other English-speaking countries are the only ones entitled to assume positions of leadership in the world.

Rather than giving credit to China where credit is due, they choose to hurl insults at China. This may make them feel better, but it certainly won’t help them keep up with — much less compete with — China.

China’s increasingly open environment shows that it remains eager to cooperate with the international business community. The first principle of cooperation is mutual respect, and unless the US shows China some respect, it will never get to know the real diamonds in China’s belly, which are its long, rich cultural history and its vision for a cleaner, more equitable future.

Josh Selig is the founder and president of China Bridge Content, a company committed to building strong creative and business ties between China and the world in the media sector. He is the former CEO of Little Airplane Productions, a New York-based company that he founded in 1999, which was acquired by Studio 100 in 2017. He is the Emmy-winning creator of many popular children’s shows including Wonder Pets, Small Potatoes and P. King Duckling.


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