China might be the world’s biggest polluter but perhaps no other country has done more to clean up its act and step up to its cleantech international stewardship in the past several years. But all of this comes at a price. Often times, it means reprehending its own businesses to avoid global scandals.
China Keeps Tight Control Over Its Businesses
It’s interesting to see how different countries handle business. In the West, corporations and big businesses have carte blanche. They have to follow certain laws, but even if they don’t, they can often get away with it just by paying a small fine. After successfully lobbying every branch of politics and having installed their representatives, businesses are pretty much free to do what they really want anyway, including creating and removing laws that hinder their profits.
On the other hand, China, a country often vilified in Western news, makes no qualms about its ambitions and how to go about achieving them. It wants to raise the quality of life and profile of its citizens, and raise its overall international profile and presence. It is doing everything it can to get there, including reigning in its businesses when that seems necessary.
Yes, China pollutes. It pollutes a lot. But, to its credit, it’s also taking a lot of steps in the right direction to clean up its act. It is keenly aware that in order to be relevant on the global scene and also boost its economic position further at home, it needs to let its domestic corporations grow internationally. But one thing it won’t do is suffer big mistakes, financial foolery, and corporations running wild.
Pride & Chinese Nationalism
We all know China is a proud nation. In fact, there aren’t too many global powers that are not proud. But where the West is ruled by corporate interests, the Chinese government tries to balance corporate interests with other societal ambitions. Aside from wanting to squash counterproductive ventures and money games, it’s a question of image — China wants to get away from the “Made In China” stigma.
As part of this, it also doesn’t mess around with corporations not meeting government standards. While large corporations in the US or Europe can often push on politicians enough to get their way, or at least significantly delay the need to comply with stricter standards, China says they must do it or shut down.
Here are some cases in point: In 2016, some automakers were caught and penalized for fluffing up their numbers to obtain certain EV subsidies. The Chinese government also recently set stronger fuel consumption standards. Companies that didn’t comply weren’t given leeway and a generous period of transition in which to get up to speed — instead, production was shut down on 553 vehicle models. Sound familiar? It shouldn’t, because it rarely happens in the West. Western governments often don’t act until enough whistleblowers have sounded the alarm.
As we mentioned earlier, Jia Yueting, LeEco and Faraday Future’s CEO and founder, failed to report back to his country to explain his lackluster investment performance. He is now on the country’s national blacklist of “discredited” people.
A far cry from the lip service and eventually wrist slaps companies get in the West from our governments.
Before we go any further, this is not an apology or love declaration for the country. It has troubles and has a lot of skeletons in the closet. But we’re interested in pointing to what works, while also sometimes highlighting what doesn’t.
After a decade and a half of demanding that its carmakers start making cleaner cars, Shenzhen managed to make a huge leap itself and switch over its entire bus fleet to electricity — that’s 16,359 buses! (The NYC bus fleet has a total of 5,773 buses.) And taxis are next, as Steve Hanley just wrote.
The country has cut down on certain especially harmful coal burning, sometimes to the detriment of its citizens braving harsh winter conditions. Stories continually abound of the Chinese government stepping in to reign in its unruly growth as Western media vilifies the country. Yes, the country has problems and is no angel. At least it steps in to regain its footstep as it steadies its international juggernaut march. It leaves Western nations to talk and strike closed-door deals with corporations really running the show.
We’re not sure what is better — lip service in a so-called “free business” world or governments letting companies grow and succeed but stepping in when disaster is about to strike.
Meanwhile, China is making no qualms taking full advantage of the political division and squabbles of the West to more quickly expand its economic power. Unfortunately, with a US economy that still doesn’t favor the fast-disappearing middle class, pretty soon, corporations will be left with lots of money and no one (here) to buy their products and services. Perhaps that French saying about someone wanting wood for the winter, climbing up a tree, and cutting the branch he is sitting on is apropos.
In the meantime, there are sports on TV. Let’s get entertained. The world will still be there tomorrow…