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Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Sign of the Times

2009 saw Chinese telecoms giant China Mobile record an operating revenue of a staggering 452,103 million Yuan, up 9.8% from the 2008 equivalent figure. This statistic is one of many that could be used to demonstrate the rapid expansion of the Chinese mobile technology market in recent years. With China's middle-classes having more and more disposable income, these consumers have set their sights on the latest gadgets and gizmos. Therefore, quite understandably, western companies are increasingly looking East in the likely direction that their biggest profits will come from in the future. As the Wall Street Journal's China Realtime Report described on Saturday, Apple is one of these corporations working to dramatically expand its base of operations in the PRC. Yesterday saw it open two new stores in Beijing and Shanghai, to coincide with the launch of the new iPhone 4 into the Chinese market. One only had to read reports of the queues of Chinese keen to get their hands on the latest iPhone product to realise how important the country's consumers will be to the profitability of businesses like Apple in the future. Not surprisingly, further new Apple branches are planned for China in the coming year.

While Apple was doing a roaring trade, elsewhere in Shanghai Yang Xueshan (Vice-Minister of Industry and Information Technology) was putting numbers on the spectacular growth in demand for new technologies in China. According to the China Daily, Yang estimated that, by the end of August this year, the number of “phone subscribers” in the PRC stood at around 1.13 billion. Of course, it is difficult to know where the overlap occurs in these figures (the actual number of people who own mobile and landline phones is much lower), but the magnitudes involved are still staggering. Yang also estimated the January to June revenue of China's electronics manufacturers to be nearly 3 trillion Yuan- a fact which underlines the crucial role this sector plays in the Chinese economy as a whole.

It seems that even the People's Daily is on board with the technological revolution. Today, the paper's English-language website featured details on the new People's Daily iPad App, allowing users of Apple's new flagship handheld product to receive news items directly via their handset. It is interesting to imagine what the founders of the People's Daily would think of their creation over six decades on- the move by the paper to synchronise its reporting with a western business giant would undoubtedly set socialist alarm bells ringing! Indeed, this example is testament to the whole paradox of the CCP's continued efforts to disseminate its socialist theory to a global audience. As the Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily aims to maximise its readership, both domestically and abroad. Unfortunately, the pace of technological change means that to do this it must exploit channels provided by an international corporation. Chairman Mao would certainly have not approved- luckily for China, its current leadership does not have the same ideological objections.

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