A large number of vehicles for export goods are waiting to be loaded at The port of Yantai, East China's Shandong Province.
Global China Inc. Tracker.
20 min read

Economic stress has repercussions for China's ambitions

No. 2, July 2022

What you need to know: It’s shaping up to be a tough year for China Inc. both at home, and abroad

The economic stress China currently experiences at home has repercussions for China Inc., the often-coordinated network of companies, financiers, and officials expanding China’s footprint abroad. 

First, China’s supply chain woes are quickly becoming the world’s problem too. With ‘the world’s factory’ in disarray, any companies or individual consumers awaiting goods shipments from China are in for delays and shortages – the last thing many countries need at a time of rising inflation. Many of China Inc.’s projects within the Belt and Road (BRI) are likely to suffer delays and temporary setbacks too because of supply disruptions from the home market, and possibly even backtracking on projects overseas as aggressive stimulus is called for back home. 

Second, China’s annual outbound foreign direct investment (FDI) flows were already struggling to recover throughout 2021, in sharp contrast to a massive resurgence in global FDI flows which rose 77 percent year-on-year. Instead, as MERICS and Rhodium reported in April, China’s outbound non-financial investment rose by a meagre 3 percent in 2021 to USD 114 billion (EUR 96 billion). The lack of a recovery was attributed to the zero-Covid strategy, which “hindered cross-border travel and deal-making activities.” The Omicron outbreaks mean China Inc. looks increasingly unlikely to get back into major investing abroad in 2022. 

Third, Beijing’s continued intransigence on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could harm perceptions of China Inc.’s global presence at least in some parts of the world. For now, Beijing seems capable of holding together the BRICS coalition as a platform for its global power projection. Shifting domestic politics in key BRI partner countries such as Brazil and Kenya in 2022 and with doubts about the role Beijing plays in the looming global food crisis, the outlook for China’s global expansion looks more uncertain.

Against this background, this edition of the Global China Inc. Tracker provides you with critical insights into China’s evolving ties with one of the BRICS countries, Brazil, and China’s radical food security strategy.

Jacob Mardell, freshly back from that very country, covers Brazil in this quarter’s Regional Spotlight. Sino-Brazilian ties have been a mixed bag under Bolsonaro’s leadership, balanced between his refusal to join the BRI on one side and China’s growing investments in Brazil as a supplier of soybeans, iron ore, and crude oil. The October election between Bolsonaro and his more China-friendly rival, Lula, will determine the future prospects for this member of the BRICS. 

Aya Adachi and Jacob Gunter explore the role of this edition’s Key Player: COFCO – As China’s chief food processor and distributor, at home and abroad, COFCO has a key role in Beijing’s food security strategy. As the war in Ukraine threatens global food security, we look into China’s food production and trade, and what sort of international role it might play in a food supply or price crisis.