China’s overall trade has been impacted by the global economic slowdown, but there is a notable emergence of China’s medium- and high-end manufacturing as a new driver for export growth. According to data from the General Administration of Customs, China’s total imports and exports grew 4.7 percent year-on-year to 16.77 trillion yuan ($2.36 trillion) in the first five months of this year. However, in dollar terms, total foreign trade decreased by 2.8 percent year-on-year, with a 7.5 percent decline in exports in May.
Undoubtedly, China’s foreign trade is facing unprecedented challenges due to unfavorable short-term factors like high inflation and interest rates, as well as deep-rooted structural issues affecting global demand for Chinese goods. Furthermore, trade protectionism, unilateralism, and the US-led “decoupling” efforts aimed at China have added headwinds to Chinese exports, resulting in a decline in some sectors. China’s exports to the US, for example, fell 15.1 percent year-on-year in the first five months of this year, reflecting the impact of China-US tensions on bilateral trade.
However, despite these negative factors, China’s foreign trade still demonstrates positive aspects and bright spots amidst weak global demand and external pressures. Notably, Chinese exports of mechanical and electrical products increased by 9.5 percent year-on-year in the first five months of 2023, with a significant surge of 124.1 percent year-on-year in automobile exports. These bright spots serve as the catalyst for breakthroughs and resilience in China’s export performance.
Furthermore, China’s foreign trade exhibits a growing trend in the export of medium- and high-end products, exemplified by the robust growth of electric vehicles and photovoltaic products. Chinese vehicle exports in April witnessed a remarkable year-on-year increase of 150 percent, while the export value of photovoltaic modules and cells soared by 37 percent and 66 percent respectively in the first quarter of this year. These developments reflect the transformation and upgrading of China’s manufacturing sector, where medium- and high-end products have become increasingly competitive, innovative, and diversified in global markets.
It is worth noting that as Chinese manufacturers move up the value chain, they retain their traditional advantages of reliable product quality and large-scale capacity. The advantage of large-scale production also provides cost benefits, particularly valuable in a high-inflation market environment.
Despite the EU’s potential consideration of a mandatory ban on using companies like Huawei Technologies Co in member states’ 5G networks, Chinese companies will not withdraw from global competition due to such bans. Chinese manufacturers, including Huawei, with their cost and scale advantages, will become competitors to EU producers in the 5G market and other sectors.
These advantages extend beyond Huawei to other Chinese manufacturers as well. In fact, as the world faces increasing inflationary pressure and other challenges, China-made products can leverage their strengths to gain market shares and overcome Western containment.
Therefore, despite the ongoing “decoupling” efforts led by the US and its Western allies, China’s manufacturing strength remains a crucial and irreplaceable part of the global supply chain.