Electric cars, solar panels, TikTok: China is not only catching up rapidly, but is also beginning to overtake in key industries. That’s why the alarm bells have been ringing in Washington since Donald Trump’s time. But even his successor Joe Biden will not be able to stop the rise of the Middle Kingdom.
When Robert Habeck flies to Washington next week, he will encounter an American administration that is clearly looking for a conflict with China. Rhetorical. Economically. And possibly soon militarily too.
Don’t look at the labels “Republican” or “Democratic”. Despite the different senders, China policy comes from the “America first” factory that Donald Trump built and Joe Biden expanded.
“We must protect the American people from China,” said Democratic Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
“We need a US investment blockade for entire sectors of the Chinese economy,” said Foreign Affairs Committee head Republican Michael McCaul.
But the warnings come too late. America can interrupt its trade relations with China. But it can no longer prevent the rise of China. The fact is:
China is now not only making a name for itself in peripheral areas of the economy, but also in central areas in which the Middle Kingdom has taken global leadership:
VW boss Blume is currently in China to save what may no longer be saveable. The supremacy of VW in the field of electric mobility has come to an abrupt end. The Chinese mainly buy Chinese electric vehicles. In this top segment of the market, VW only plays a third-place role. Or to put it more bluntly: China leaves the old world to the old manufacturers.
Chinese manufacturers like BYD have clearly understood their domestic customers better: In the first half of 2022, BYD sold 326,000 all-electric cars and 315,000 plug-in hybrids in China. Compared to the previous half year, sales grew by 320 percent. The sales market for electric vehicles in China grew by 10 percent in 2022 to 2.9 million cars sold.
This world market position has been hard earned. The country spent around $41 billion on major solar projects in the first six months of 2022 alone. 173 percent more than in the previous year.
Germany itself was once on the way to becoming a leading photovoltaics industry; today it obtains 95 percent of its solar systems from China. According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China’s global share in the production of solar modules is now over 70 percent.
China not only exports, but has itself become a boom market for photovoltaics. From zero to 300 gigawatts of installed capacity in 15 years. Europe only has a good 140 gigawatts, of which 40 percent are in Germany.
The so-called rare earths are particularly important for the production of any electronic product. With a market share of almost 70 percent, China is the main producer of these raw materials. 34 percent of the world market consists of rare earths imported from China.
65 percent of the raw materials for electric motors manufactured in Europe are imported from China. For wind turbines and photovoltaic systems it is over 50 percent.
The further processing of these raw materials also takes place for the most part in China. 90 percent of the world’s rare earth processing happens on-site, as does 70 percent of cobalt processing.
Lithium, from which the lithium-ion batteries, which are irreplaceable for electric cars, are made is also largely used in China. 77 percent of all batteries of this type produced worldwide are made in the People’s Republic. Six of the ten largest battery manufacturers in the world are based in China.
ByteDance, the company behind TikTok, is now worth more than $100 billion. According to their own statements, more than a billion users were active on the platform in September 2022.
TikTok trends affect an entire generation – worldwide. Over 60 percent of users are under 29 years old.
ByteDance collects a corresponding amount of data about their behavior and user preferences. Meanwhile, Western tech companies like Meta and Alphabet have been denied access to the Chinese market.
US platforms still lead the global ranking of social networks, but TikTok, which only started in 2017, has grown faster than it has ever grown. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, the app was downloaded 318 million times – a world record.
Conclusion: We are eyewitnesses to a historic overtaking manoeuvre. Helmut Schmidt, the last German politician to meet Mao Zedong, once prophesied: “The Chinese will conquer the world – without military force.” Part 1 of the sentence is a statement of fact, part 2 remains a hope.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.