The Rise Of China: How Can We Prepare For It? [TFC 125]
Imagine a world where China takes over the role of the main global superpower. What will it be like? While none of us can predict the future accurately, this scenario is entirely possible given China’s astronomical growth over the years. As global citizens and investors, what can we do to thrive in such a world? Join us as we explore some ways to prepare ourselves should China become the leader of the world.
Regardless of your opinions on China, it is a fact that China will continue to increase its presence in the world. In TFC 125, Chief Financial Coconut Reggie makes his own predictions about China’s domination and suggests practical steps we can take so that we will be ready to take part in this brand new global financial climate.
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Reggie: Hey Coconuts! Recently, there’s a lot of discussion about US and China. Not exactly recently, but it’s just nowadays, there’s more and more. US, China, US, China… what’s going to happen? I don’t think you really need me to talk that much about the US because the US is the order today. Whatever that’s going to happen in the world where the US leads, it has already happened.
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You kind of know that, but what about China? Where is the world going to be like if China takes the baton as the number one and leads the one… dominate the world. Like it or not, China is already very dominant in the global order but will it become the number one? Will it take over the world? If that happens, what’s going to happen? How are you going to practice this thing? How are you going to do this? How are you going to live in a world where China leads?
I think there’s a lot of questions here. I’m going to try to attempt to answer some of these questions over the next few episodes. Today, we’re going to start with a simple one: if China becomes number one, how should I prepare for it? Welcome back.
Good morning, everyone! I welcome you to another day with The Financial Coconut. In our podcast, we’ll be debunking financial myths, discovering best financial practices and discussing financial strategies that fits our unique life. You get it, ultimately empowering us to create a life we love while managing our finances well.
My name is Reggie, your Chief Financial Coconut. Today, we’re going to spend some time to talk about the rise of China. Following the rise of China, what can you do to prepare for this future? Whether or not they’re number one, they’re going to be hanging around for a very, very, very long time. They’re going to be a significant part of the business world. They’re going to be a significant part of your life going into the future so how is that going to affect you? How to better prepare for it? Welcome back.
I think the truth is you don’t need to love China… neither do you love the US or love Japan, love Korea. Do you really love them or do you just love the part of them that is being marketed to you? When you don’t work there, you don’t live there, you just go there for two weeks, you’re kind of entering a fairy tale.
You’re entering a fairy tale that has been shaped because of media, because of content, because of culture, because of food, because of all the tourism campaign and all the things that are being thrown at you but you don’t live there. You don’t need to love there. Like it or not… why do I put it that way? Because some people are like “oh my god, I don’t love China. I don’t like the political culture or they got human rights issue. They got blah, blah, blah”… all those things. I’m not coming from a moral ground to tell you that, “oh my god, you must accept that it’s like that… blah, blah, blah”. I’m not coming from that ground.
I’m just trying to let you know that hey, you don’t live there. Your passport is not there. You don’t have some sort of native connectivity there. Why (are) you so emotional about it? Why do you need to come from a moral high ground to look at this situation? The reality is you may never live there. You may never need to live there. You may never need to work there at all.
But as China becomes a global power, as China continue to rise, the reality is they are already a global power so I was like… should I say that? They are already global so like it or no, as China continue to become bigger and bigger and more and more of its companies leave their country and hire globally and export their culture globally, export their business globally, what should you do to better prepare for it? I think that’s the reality.
But why I begin the podcast talking about that whole thing? Because I am sensing a lot of people coming from a moral high ground to judge what is China doing and also, coming from a very tainted view of what do you think is good, what do you think is the way to go to look at this situation. But like it or not, they’re going to be dominant, right? You don’t like the US randomly sending drones, attacking other countries… they are dominant, so you got to work with them, like it or not.
Let’s put the moral stuff aside, the whole human rights and all of that aside. It can be a very lengthy discussion but we are not The Political Coconut so we’ll focus on finance, focus on personal finance. What should you do then with China’s rise?
The premise is as China continue to expand, you’ll very likely will work with a Chinese company or work in a Chinese company, work with Chinese people that are not like Singaporeans. Chinese natives… many generations that were born there and lived there, now they’re leaving.
There are three waves of Chinese expats moving out. Expats, a bit funny… Because when the Chinese leave for the past… about a hundred years, or a 100, 200 years where the Chinese left the country, they were not expats. They were struggling, that’s why they leave.
All the Chinese people in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, they were struggling. They were all struggling, that’s why they left. Some people were traders but most of the people (who) they came here, they were struggling from famine, culture revolution, whatever… they came out. That was one of the biggest wave of migration into this part of the world, into the ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. Of course, there’s all the migration around the world, we’ll not talk about it.
The next wave of migration into the ASEAN region is really from places like Shanghai, places like Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, where China made some money already. The company was growing, they made some money so they had a whole different level of people leaving the country and exporting them all over the world. These people came here as scholars, these people came here as businessmen, these people came here with resources. It’s a different discussion altogether.
And now, the third wave of exporting of people will very much be your middle-class, your technicians, the people that are doing the technical work. Your engineers, your coders, your managers. All these people… very highly likely you will be working with them.
You will experience a third wave of Chinese people leaving their country and start to live in this part of the world and many other parts of the world as their business expand. Just like when Japanese leave the country, they open a HQ (headquarters) here, they open some site office somewhere else, they will bring Japanese people out there. As Chinese companies expand, they will also bring their Chinese people all around the world. Third wave of global migration of the Chinese people… or at least into the ASEAN region. That is the reality.
There’s also another thing that I think it’s very likely to happen. That is the financial markets of China will open up. It is very, very profitable for them to participate in the financial market but it’s even more profitable for them to run the financial markets because if you run the financial markets, you dictate interest rates, you dictate all the taxes, you dictate a lot of things. We can talk about this as we go along. I think that it’s an eventuality that even the… a lot of Chinese scholars are talking about it. They want to do it a little bit differently, but they want to do it. That is some of the important backdrops that will be at play over the next few decades.
With that in mind, what should you do? They’re very, very simple. First one that you should do is to understand the Chinese work and business culture. I think this is very, very important and it’s been said again and again by many, many people. I know it sounds very lame by now, but I’m going to share with you my perspective.
I’ve decided to put this as point number one, because I am hearing so many people say so many things about how should you perform in your job, how to become spotted, how to be a talent, how to get a promotion and all those things. I think all (of these are) rubbish. Why do I think a lot of them are rubbish? Because a lot of them are anchoring on the backdrop of MNCs (Multinational Corporations), of European companies, of US companies. That is something that we totally forget already. We don’t really realize that promotion…
Underlying a lot of these ideas of promotion and thriving in a particular system, is your assimilation with the system. That means how close you are to the ideal individual within this system or how close you are within this cultural ecosystem that will allow you to rise further. I think that’s something that a lot of people have forgotten.
Everybody talks about “oh, you must be able to solve problems. You must take initiative. You must be a people person… blah, blah, blah”. A lot of these things are being peddled out there in the world but people don’t realize that what is the backdrop? The backdrop is in the US company, there is a certain way of managing people. There’s a certain “by-right”, there’s a certain ideal.
In a Singapore company, there’s a certain ideal, there’s a certain “by-right” because the management is different. The culture they set is different. The things they’re looking for is different so when you work with the Chinese, it’s also very different which is why this is extremely important. You must understand how the Chinese people work. You must understand their business culture and their work culture.
I will say that it’s generally diverse. The old 9-9-6 culture will shift out eventually because as the people become more profitable, they become wealthier and all that then they will want to have more. I really think the whole movement towards work fulfilment, towards better quality work, towards a better work environment, it’s on the basis of a lot of people having made their money already.
If a big bunch of your team has $300,000… Imagine you work in a bank or you work in a financial company, or you work in… whichever… you work in a port or you work in some of the bigger companies that are doing well and you work for 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years… or you move around the sector, you work for 10 years… Anybody that work for 10 years within this thriving sector has half a million dollars or $300,000 at least, in their total asset or in their bank.
When everybody around you in tech or in all these thriving space, they have this kind of money, of course you cannot just give them money. You got to talk to them about quality of life, work-life balance, fulfilment. All those things start to come in because it’s the higher order of needs that they are trying to fulfill.
So I do believe that because of this growth of China, Chinese companies and Chinese people, the 9-9-6 culture will eventually fade off because people want more than just work, more than just career progression. 9-9-6 is a culture in the past, I would say. For all of you that don’t know what is 9-9-6; 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, you work six days a week. That is the culture. That’s one of the underlying culture that is there but it will change.
As we go along on this podcast, I will try my very best to bring on more people that are within this space to try to share us more about how the Chinese people work, how’s it different and all that. Let’s keep going on that.
I would say that the first wave of Chinese companies that are coming out of China are from the South… from Shanghai, from Zhejiang, from Guangzhou, Shenzhen, they’re from the South. A lot of these companies are tech companies. The tech companies… or they’re pseudo tech companies: hardware, software, whatever.
A lot of these tech companies, when they come out of Hangzhou… tech hub. They come out, they will bring their Southern culture. The Southern culture is a lot more nuanced in a sense of everybody is like “oh yeah, okay. Very nice, dah, dah, dah” but actually behind, there’s a lot of deeper… I don’t know if I should say it… a lot deeper kind of relationship management that goes on behind.
How do you manage the nuance of relationship? How do you have a… be part of the culture of Confucianism where you respect your elders but the same time, be innovative? All that matters. Although there’s some dilution of those things because of the kind of global culture of the tech world, there is a lot of that whole Southern work culture of Confucianism, of respect for elders which is actually not very hard for Singaporeans because we already… We are governed by Southerners.
If you look at the… The whole country is run by a bunch of Chinese people and most of them were from the South, whether is it Hainan, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien people, they’re all from the South and they work pretty similar. If you have a chance to go to China, you will not feel like you are in China.
If you are in Guangzhou, if you are in Fujian, you are in Xiamen, you will not feel like… You’ll just feel like it’s a more Chinese-y Singapore because the people there speak similar accent, (have) similar ideas, the way they act is pretty similar. You just look at your grandparents, how they act is pretty much how a lot of the Chinese grandmothers, they do the same thing. It’s pretty the same.
I would say that the assimilation with the Southern companies are okay, they’re not as difficult. But if you happen to work with the North-Easterns, the 东北 people, which you will very likely… in the next wave of expansion for China, they will start to export hardware technology. They will start to export manufacturing technology which is… a lot of them are all based in 东北.
Why? Because 东北 is so cold that the… That’s where they had to manufacture a lot of things with robots because people cannot work in the winter. People would rest three months in 东北. In the North-Eastern part of China, they rest three months during the winter because it was so cold. In such a backdrop, it is very good (to) set-up machines. A lot of the biggest manufacturing, those kind of robo-arms and all that, a lot of them are based in that part of China and they will start to come out of China and start to bring that technology all around.
As they come out, they have a very different culture. They have the “everything-talk-in-front”, “I-unhappy-just-say”… it’s a very different… More 豪爽 (bold), more open kind of culture. They’re not as… like the Southerners, which is like very cordial, very courteous and then behind, we talk about other things behind.
The people from the North are a lot more open and that is a very simplified way of sharing with you. I’m not saying it’s accurate, I’m just saying that you must understand the nuance of the backdrop. You must understand the work culture and the business culture that you’re in in order to rise up the ranks.
It is not just about being proactive, being (a) people manager… all those things that people say, they all have forgotten what is the basis. The basis is which kind of company are you working for? What is the backdrop here? What is the kind of culture here? What is the ideal individual here? Only when you meet these things within this backdrop can you rise up so this is important. China is expanding. You must understand the Chinese work and business culture.
So… brings me to point number two and that is: what you should do is shift your American ADR (American Depositary Receipt) to Hong Kong and China’s A-Shares. I will share more with you after a word from our sponsor.
Okay… There’s some people out there talking about “you know, American ADR and Hong Kong ADR is the same. They’re all ADRs, American Depository Receipts. In other words, they are all illegal listing. It is China’s pseudo financial system at play and blah, blah, blah.” I hear these kind of things out there and I want to tell you that it’s different. All the American stuff and the Hong Kong stuff is fundamentally different because Hong Kong is part of China. America is America. I think that is important.
To say that the effect is the same or the outcome is the same, it’s fundamentally weird because Hong Kong has always been a port and a financial hub over time. When China took it back, they kept that thing. They kept Hong Kong as a port. They kept Hong Kong as a financial hub especially for external people. That means, people that are not part of China. So your US, your UK, your European, your Japanese, even your Singaporeans. A lot of these big financial companies and big companies, they use Hong Kong as a gateway into China. In other words, how can you say the gateway of China is the same as America? Different, right? Just to put it out there.
If you can, I would say you should shift your American ADRs to Hong Kong, if they are similar. Let’s say you buy JD or you buy Alibaba or you buy some of these other companies that you are invested in in America. Maybe you can explore Hong Kong or you can just directly buy A-Shares. There’s a lot more accessibility with some of the bigger brokerages out there today. You can do it and I think you should do it.
Why? Other than China’s rise of its own business where they’re more technology advanced, they’ll start to export those things, the next thing China will do is really to expand their financial ecosystem.
Why? If you think about it, if everybody trades in US dollar, which is the current situation now. Everybody trades in the US dollar and you are (an) innovator. You created a whole new technology. Let’s say 5G technology or 6G. I give you 10G… 10G technology, very amazing… I don’t know what is it for but anyway… I give you 10G technology but you trade in the US dollar.
What does it mean? When you trade in the US dollar, whatever technology innovation that you have created, it’s reinforcing the power of the US dollar system because only US dollar can buy this technology so all that you’re creating, all that you’re innovating is to reinforce the US dollar’s dominance.
If you see it from this way, why is China not incentivized to create its own financial ecosystem where everybody trades in Yuan or the digital Yuan, going forward? China is extremely incentivized to trade in Yuan. All the technology innovation that they are going to create, all the things that are coming out… come on, man. They can send space shuttle these days. The International Space Station… “You don’t want to play me? Okay, never mind. I do myself.”
They can create their own space technology. They have their missile system. They have created their own aircraft carrier. They have built a lot of these military stuff and also a lot of commercial stuff and they are building a lot of new softwares.
All these things that they are creating, it is stupid for them to put under the US dollar system because now they are the number one innovator. Let’s say eventually, they’ll become the number one innovator. “How can I do that? Why I (am) so stupid? I reinforce the strength of US dollar for what? My enemy, you know.”
Of course, China will say “oh no, we are not enemies. We’re friends, blah, blah, blah”. 不要骗自己. Don’t lie to ourselves. Let’s be real, we must be critical on both sides. China wants to dominate, wants to grow, wants to progress. Whether or not what is the eventuality of China’s dominance is a different story, but they want to.
Whatever they say… “no, we are multilateral. We are open, blah, blah, blah”, it’s all a political thing. They cannot go around saying “we want to dominate, we want to be world power.” Everybody will coalesce and attack them so they will not say that. Whatever future doesn’t matter but the reality is China is increasingly incentivized to create its own financial system. Because they are going to be the number one innovator and it is stupid to support other people’s financial system that way.
They’re going to create this digital Yuan ecosystem. They’re going to create the RMB (Renminbi) ecosystem. They’re going to start with trading with Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela… all the people that the US don’t want and put as “evil”, they already started and it’s got to keep expanding.
As Iran open up and work with them, then Iraq will come in. Afghanistan will come in. A lot of these countries that were “attacked”, that the US didn’t like, they made friends with China first. Africa, they made friends with China. Oh my god, (the) Africa-China alliance is so much stronger than whatever the Europeans are trying to do today. If you think about it, China will increasingly want to consolidate this financial system and put everything under RMB.
With that, you really don’t want to be part of this friction. You don’t want to be part of this friction… of a possibility of retraction or the US sanctioning certain companies. Why? What is the incentive for you? As China opens up its financial economy to let you have a direct access where you can directly buy Hong Kong shares, directly buy China’s A-shares, H shares, A-shares, then why (do) you want to own the ADR and have that additional risk of… you don’t know what’s going to happen between US and China and what is this Yuan ecosystem is going to be like?
You can continue to buy the US shares in US dollar but I would think that all the Chinese companies that you are trying to own, you should buy directly from Hong Kong and China A-Shares. This is a change in sentiment from previously. Previously, I thought okay, never mind. But the more I look at it, the more I see how things are changing, I think you should do this shift if you can.
Which brings me to point number three on what you should do following the rise of China and that is to explore the Chinese culture. (It’s) different, the work and business culture is one thing so that’s the work-business environment. But the Chinese culture I’m talking about: tea, wine, art, calligraphy, music, poem… those kind of stuff are what China will export next. This is what I believe. There’s a lot of talks out there about the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and they get all these people to come in and they talk, talk, talk… At the end, when they talk, you really don’t know what they are trying to say.
Everything is “oh, China very good, China very good, China very good or China’s going to do this”, but you ask them “so, what is China going to do next”? A lot of people are unsure and what can you do next? People also… They cannot give you solid advice.
I will say all the technical work, like it or not, you cannot be part of it. You cannot suddenly become (an) engineer or you suddenly become scientist, suddenly become coder. You got to go and learn it. All the technical work, I’m going to push aside. If you want to follow the rise of China and you want to be part of the technical ecosystem, you can try but I say that the Chinese are pumping out engineers like free.
Even most of the US colleges… the people that are graduating from engineering, from math, from science, all the hard kind of stuff are all Chinese people. Honestly, they don’t really need you. The Indians and the Chinese already fill the world with engineers but if you want to be part of it and you think you can be the number one within it, go ahead. Do it.
But all the technical stuff aside, there’re a lot of other business stuff: business stuff, financial stuff, relationships and more service… some of these other things that Singapore is already doing a lot. A lot of you that are listening, you’re hired by these sectors… the financial service sector or the high-end service sector and what have you.
Service sector is huge in Singapore so all these will continue to be the core of Singaporeans and will continue to be the core of Singapore. It’s very hard for Singapore to compete on whatever other fronts that China’s trying to do but of course, I hope that we do to diversify our economy. As of now, the reality is as such.
With this, I think that your exploration of Chinese culture will aid you in trying to build better relationship with the Chinese people and build a better understanding of how they see certain things because it’s like high-class, very, very atas (high-class).
Like the people in the West, they have the whiskey culture, the cigar culture or the golfing culture, the tennis culture which… some are being translated into China but China is going to start exporting its culture and that is the part that I think you can start immersing in it. Try, try a little bit. Instead of go and learn how to draw acrylic paint and pottery… Pottery okay. Pottery is quite China. China came out with the early technology of it, by the way.
Instead of learning just acrylic painting on your weekends, maybe you can go and learn Chinese calligraphy or learn 山水画, learn how to paint the Chinese way or instead of going to listen to symphony, maybe you can go listen to the Chinese orchestra, get some vibes. Instead of going to the Starbucks or some… Melbourne exported cafes, you can go and try the Chinese tea culture which I’m a big fan.
By the way, I want to clarify. I used to run a Chinese tea shop. I’ve been to Yunnan. I stayed there for a while and I explored a lot of the tea culture there. I also learnt this Chinese instrument called 阮 (ruan) and I’m a Grade Nine. I got Grade Nine, guys. I almost did (a) diploma if not for Covid.
So yes, I am very, very “China”, like it or not. I worked there before. I understand their wine culture, the Chinese wine culture, how they do certain things. While I cannot give you vividly exactly how it is, but I will say that as someone that is biased in this, that is very immersed in the Chinese culture, I think it’s very beautiful and you should try it especially in… going into the future where the Chinese become more and more dominant, you understanding their culture, you understanding their way of life or whatever that they are trying to rekindle because honestly, during the Cultural Revolution, a lot of these things died so a lot of the “new” Chinese culture that are rising is Hong Kong and Taiwanese people going back to China and bringing it up again. But now, it’s different already. Internally, they are growing once again. I think that’s the part that will set you apart in the global order going forward.
Of course, if you can speak Mandarin, that’s a given. Even better. But, all that aside… technical aside, language aside, I think you should at least learn the Chinese culture or at least immerse yourself in some of these cultural assets that they will start exporting. I can guarantee you in the next decade, every single ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country will have a Chinese orchestra: Bangkok chinese orchestra, Vietnam chinese orchestra and Malaysia chinese orchestra. Every single one will have. I can guarantee because that is how culture is being exported. The Chinese government will fund you and then you do fundraising. The Chinese business ecosystem will grow.
A lot of these things will start to come up and if you can attach yourself in these kind of cultural centres and be part of the cultural… I won’t say elite, but at least that the know-hows, you set yourself apart from a lot of other people that are still iffy about China. Hey, like it or not, even if China does not become number one, it will be number two, number three, it will still be around. So why not?
To sum up today as to how do you better prepare for the rise of China… I think number one is, you got to understand the work and business culture of Chinese people or at least the China companies now. I would say that the Chinese culture is very nuanced and very different. It is not like one block, China. No, no, no. There’s a lot of nuances. They went through a lot of wars. There’re a lot of local power, so they have a lot of different, smaller local cultures.
This is important because I think too many people out there giving you advice about how to become an important player, how to get promoted in companies, they are all coming from the US-centric view of what is considered a good employee, what is a work culture and how do you thrive.
I think understanding the different Chinese companies, how they work, their internal culture and shaping yourself to be part of that ideal individual to get promoted, that is important… if that is your gameplay, that’s what you want to do.
Number two is shifting your American ADR to Hong Kong or China A-Shares. Like I said, China is increasingly incentivized to de-couple their financial economy, to form their own digital Yuan, their own Yuan circulation. You don’t want to be part of this friction. You don’t really have a lot of high incentive to hold America ADR. Whatever Hong Kong access that you can get or China access that you can get, you should shift. Your JD, (Ali)Baba, Tencent, all the companies that you are buying in America from China, you should try to buy back in China.
Number three is explore the Chinese culture, so tea, wine, art, calligraphy, music, poem. I think these are important and it will set you apart to the next level. I’m pushing aside all the technicalities, Mandarin language or the skill-like… skill kind of stuff assuming that you’re not going to pivot into all these other things that China wants you to. You want to stay in your field, at least understand this culture. They’re going to export it and it’s going to set you apart from everyone else. I hope you learnt something useful today! See ya!
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Okay… so I think this is a very basic opening of what you can do as China starts to export itself because China (has) already risen. We cannot say “China start to rise”. China has already risen but its rise is still very localized or at least regionalized. You only recently start to see big Chinese companies opening up big offices abroad.
In the past, they have offices abroad but it’s not huge. The Bank of China has been around for a long time in Singapore. ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) has been around for a long time in Singapore but it’s always in a small operation, supporting very small merchants and small local community but, now you see they’re opening up big offices: Tencent, Alibaba, JD, ByteDance… You will see more and more of these tech companies hiring regionally and you will also see more and more of the big financial companies hiring regionally.
With that, you really want to be better prepared for some of these future. I think these three are a good place to start. Of course, as things become more nuanced, I will keep updating you guys on what I observe out there with China’s rise.
Next week, I’m going to share with you why I think China will win. I think this is important because I keep saying China, China, China, but why? Why (do) I think China will win? The thing is predicting a win is quite a suicide to career because I’m essentially… try to forecast what’s going to happen into the future. I will say that it’s not a guarantee but there’s a very good chance that China will win at least in the region.
If you think about it, even if China does not dominate and it splits up into a three-part… A global order where the US dominates Canada and Mexico, the whole America. The Europeans start to become closer as a community. Rather than working with the US, they might tilt to Asia more because they’re not incentivized to work with the US as much, going forward, if they want to continue to grow.
And then, China can be a localized power with Japan and the whole of the ASEAN block. Like it or not, China is going to dominate somehow or another. I’m going to share with you why I think China will dominate globally.
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