What China wants

Long read: Beijing’s fractious relationship with Western businesses is well documented. But some foreign ventures are flourishing in China – and understanding how they found favour offers a route map to success in the world’s second-largest economy.

by Jonathan S. Landreth

In March 2021, clothing retailer H&M essentially disappeared from China. Overnight, it was removed from the country’s ecommerce platforms, which had been responsible for fulfilling its orders. If you wanted to visit one of its 500 bricks-and-mortar stores, you would find typing its name into DiDi, China’s ubiquitous ride-hailing app, brought up no results. Landlords at many of its shops changed the locks; over the course of a few weeks, many others terminated their leases. 

The Swedish fast fashion brand was cancelled for the crime of publicising its decision not to purchase cotton from Xinjiang province, where the Chinese government has faced international condemnation for its reported treatment of the Uighur population. The damage to H&M is substantial; over time, it may prove fatal to its ambitions in the country. 

You do not have to be an astute political commentator to see the hand of the Chinese government behind these actions. It is a dramatic reminder of the intersection between business and politics in China and evidence that, for all the lengths the country has gone to in its bid to embrace elements of capitalism, operating there can be perilous. 

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