China moves up the exports value chain

About 20 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur, on the platforms of Sri Petaling light rail station, passengers eagerly wait for China-made rakes that can carry them to the heart of the Malaysian capital.

A bunch of state-of-the-art six-car rakes made by China's CRRC Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co have been operating on the line since October 2015. Hydraulic brakes provide a quicker and safer stop mechanism to the rakes, which are China's first high-tech railway exports to a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The light rail system symbolizes China's evolution on the exports value chain, a December 2015 report of the Asian Development Bank shows.

Exports of high-tech products are now a key driver of the Chinese economy, the ADB said in the report. By 2014, China had become the largest exporter of high-tech products in Asia with a 43.7 percent share, overtaking Japan, which had a 30 percent share nearly a decade ago. They are followed by South Korea and Malaysia.

About one-third of exports from China were of high-tech products, according to the ADB report. Chinese technologies related to railways, nuclear power, shipbuilding and telecommunications are now popular in overseas markets.

Here's a rundown on the China's brightening manufacturing prowess:

Information technology

Telecom equipment exports to Asia drive Chinese manufacturers' profits these days.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world's biggest telecom equipment maker, is helping phone companies in Asia to build networks. It also sells smartphones and smartwatches in developed markets, aiming to challenge Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in the consumer telecom market.

Li Jin'ge, president of Huawei Asia Pacific, said telecom technologies, particularly broadband, cloud computing, and big data, are already driving the digitization of all industries, which is making Asian economies vibrant.

"These technologies are also promoting improvements in planning and construction, management and operations, livable environments, giving a human touch to cities around the world."

In Central Asia, Huawei is providing products and services to a number of oil and gas companies, including Beineu Bozoi Shymkent Gas Pipeline in Kazakhstan, Asia Trans Gas in Uzbekistan and Amu Darya in Turkmenistan. The area is the world's third-largest oilfield and plays an important role in the global oil and gas industry.

The Chinese company said its "digital pipeline" technology, which improves efficiency, reduces energy consumption, and enhances operational safety of oil pipes by researching operational data, has been applied to a total of 4,623 kilometers of gas pipelines in Central Asia.

Huawei's key projects include the Kazakhstan-China natural gas pipeline, called the AB line, which is the world's first and longest digital natural gas pipeline.

Mike Han, president of Huawei's Central Asia and Caucasia Enterprise Business, said: "Since we established our business in Central Asia in 1997, Huawei has been providing competitive communication products and services to telecom carriers, enterprises, and consumers by bringing cutting-edge communications technologies and products."

In the consumer telecom market, Huawei sells smartphones in emerging Asian markets, but it has been outpaced by some of the smaller vendors.

For instance, Xiaomi Corp, a Beijing-based smartphone maker, sells its own smartphones in India, Indonesia and other Asian countries via local shopping websites.

In May 2015, Xiaomi partnered with Taiwan-based contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group to open its first overseas smartphone manufacturing plant near the southern Sri City in Andhra Pradesh state.

It is the five-year-old company's first overseas manufacturing site.

Lenovo Group Ltd, the biggest personal computer maker, quickly followed suit. It has started to assemble devices in the eastern port city of Chennai. Meantime, Lenovo is aiming to let the newly acquired Motorola Mobility unit to tap into the high-end smartphone markets such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

Fiberhome Technology Group, a network equipment maker that develops metropolitan broadband Internet Protocol communications technologies, said the expanding demand for optical fiber cables in overseas market, provides a good opportunity for the Wuhan-based company.

Lyu Weiping, vice-president of Fiberhome, said its technology advantage is helping the company edge out global competition. "We tailor-make products for different overseas markets depending on the demand and factors like population density," Lyu said.

Fiberhome said its 2014 export revenue exceeded 2.4 billion yuan ($305 million), a 90 per cent increase year-on-year.

"China's Belt and Road Initiative has been fueling the sales," said Lyu. The company said it will focus on growth in neighbouring markets and attract research talents in the region. The Belt and Road strategy, the brainchild of the central government, encourages exports of high-tech products.


With growth in the Chinese market stabilizing, some heavy equipment manufacturers struck out on their own, seeking to enter Asian markets yet to open up.

The Liuzhou-based LiuGong Machinery Co, a major player in the heavy machinery market, said its products such as cranes and excavators have been exported to Southeast Asia a decade ago and are largely used in government projects in the fields of transportation, hydraulic engineering and infrastructure.

Photo: China Daily

"Countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Cambodia are our target market and we have been in Thailand for more than a decade, because those markets have huge potential for growth with increasing demand for infrastructure construction," said Zeng Guang'an, president of LiuGong.

The Chinese heavy machinery market, which used to be dominated by foreign players, had started to pick up steam around 2000 and saw its golden era after 2008 when China rolled out a 4-trillion-yuan stimulus package.

But the whole industry has been shrinking as a result of oversupply and a slowing economy.

Zeng said the only way out is to make inroads into overseas markets, especially those along the Belt and Road Initiative, which are likely to give a boost to the sluggish industry.

He was referring to the blueprint unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a trade-and-infrastructure network that includes the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The network connects Asia, Europe and Africa, and passes through more than 60 countries and regions with a population of about 4.4 billion.

LiuGong set up its regional headquarters in Singapore to manage a distribution network, support for local distributors and after-sales services for major projects.

Last year, 178 excavators and cranes from LiuGong worth $14 million were exported to Uzbekistan and Cambodia, the company said.

While LiuGong is planning ahead to grab a share in the heavy equipment market of Southeast Asia, some others are switching their focus to the farming industry by rolling out tractors instead of cement mixers to bag foreign orders.

For instance, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Development Co said it is expanding its overseas presence in the farming machinery industry, targeting Southeast Asian and Central Asian countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

The current overseas operations, however, account for a small share of the company's overall business, Zhang Jianjun, a senior executive at the company, said.

But the figure will grow to about 40 per cent by 2020, he said.

Zhang said Asian countries' demand for farming machines is surging due to rapid modernization in recent years.

Chinese companies are competitive in terms of advanced technology, reliability and lower prices, he said. "We believe the agricultural equipment market will be a major force in driving our company's growth."


As the global shipbuilding industry was hit by declining demand in recent years, Shandong-based CIMC Raffles Offshore Ltd shifted its sights to export of offshore oil rigs and engineering vessels.

The subsidiary of China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd, the country's transportation equipment producer, registered $1.8 billion in sales of offshore engineering products from international markets in 2014. Energy companies from Malaysia, Norway and Russia were its main clients.

Yu Ya, president of CIMC Raffles, said Chinese shipyards should look at high-tech areas to keep growth as low-end markets yield no profits for them.

"Developing maritime engineering vessels and equipment and racing against South Korean and Japanese competitors will be key to Chinese shipyards," Yu said.

Statistics from the China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry show Chinese shipyards received orders for new vessels with a collective capacity of 11.19 million dead weight tons in the first half of 2015, accounting for 27.6 per cent global market share.

Light rail systems

CRRC Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive, maker of light rail rakes operating in Malaysia, built a manufacturing and maintenance plant in the state of Perak in that country.

Photo: China Daily

It began operations in July 2015. The plant makes trains for the entire ASEAN region. It has annual production capacity of 100 rakes, including locomotives and light rail cars.

Zhou Qinghe, president of CRRC ZELC, said as the Chinese railway network expands, it is time for exporting technology, expertise and services.

"Because most countries in Southeast Asia have just kicked off construction of new railway lines, the demand for technological support from China is very high," said Zhou. "We can also share our experience in daily operations, maintenance and staff training."

CRRC ZELC, a subsidiary of China Railway Rolling Stock Corp, the largest train manufacturer in the country, has bagged 8 billion yuan worth of deals in five rail equipment and service projects in Malaysia, including a 200-kilometer high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and the northern city of Ipoh.

The Chinese company now owns three subsidiaries in Malaysia. Around 90 per cent of its employees are locals. Collectively, the subsidiaries make up the biggest rail transportation equipment provider in Malaysia, accounting for 85 per cent market share.

Luo Chongfu, CRRC ZELC's vice-general manager, said even though export of trains is a profitable business, the company is trying to reach out to its arms for maintenance services, to ensure long-term gains.