Business trumps politics for Chinese companies at CES

Las Vegas (AFP) – Xiaoyu Fan smiled as she looked around a bustling China Pavilion at the Consumer Electronics Show Wednesday as gadgets like bladeless fans were displayed and deals were being made.

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Hundreds of Chinese companies were at the annual CES gadget extravaganza, shrugging off US-China political trade tensions and focusing on taking care of business.

“I believe all the people in each country are very good, the civilization of each country is very nice, very friendly,” said Fan, who was with the Zhejiang Crossbow Brand Electric Appliance Company from Wuyi, China.

“We don’t care about the governments; that’s not our business” she added, a necklace around her neck spelling out the word “peace.”

About 500 of the 3,500 or so exhibitors at CES are from China, more than last year but still not at pre-Covid numbers, according to the Consumer Technology Association that runs CES.

“The Chinese are back,” association president Gary Shapiro said in the lead-up to the Las Vegas show that ends on Friday.

Chinese titans like TCL and Hisense dazzled CES goers with stunning televisions while less well-known companies showed off robots, drones, electronic bikes, charging cables and much more.

TCL’s partnership with the US National Football League was the main theme at a CES press event, complete with appearances by sports legends.

“They certainly seemed like a red-blooded American company that drinks beer and watches football,” said Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart.

-‘Copycats’ no more? –

Chinese business leaders at CES included Appotronics chief executive Li Yi, whose company specializes in laser display technology used by major companies including car makers BMW and BYD.

To Li, it seemed tension between the United States and China on the trade front was beginning to stabilize, and that the issue was more a battle over high technology than the type of consumer tech packing CES.

“For Chinese brands, being in the US is tough in today’s climate,” Li acknowledged to AFP.

“But there is also an emerging opportunity; components technology companies are starting to see this as a chance to emerge.”

Chinese companies at CES played up innovation, wanting their country to be seen as a technology leader rather than just a place where things can be made cheaply.

“People typically think we are a manufacturing powerhouse, and then people think we are copycats,” Li said of attitudes towards Chinese entrepreneurs.

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Volkswagen faces criticism after comments made by Chinese business chief at Xinjiang plant

Volkswagen drew criticism from campaigners and a big investor on Tuesday after the head of its Chinese business said he saw no sign of forced labour during a visit to the car maker’s Xinjiang plant.

The works council, which is represented on Volkswagen’s supervisory board, in a statement following Ralf Brandstaetter’s comments said the company must make clear the plant’s value for the business and take a stance on human rights violations in China.

Activists, an international group of lawmakers and the head of sustainability and corporate governance at top-20 Volkswagen investor Deka Investment said verifying labour standards in the region was impossible.

“However much Mr Brandstaetter makes an effort, Volkswagen cannot be certain. That leads not only to reputational risk, but also legal issues, for example with supply chain laws,” Deka’s Ingo Speich said.

Volkswagen relies on profits from China to fund electric vehicle research and development in Germany and is fighting domestic competitors to keep market share in the country.

Brandstaetter said in January it was important to act from a “position of strength” within China and stay strong in the market while also ramping up sales elsewhere.

On Feb. 16-17, he toured the German group’s jointly-owned facility with China’s SAIC in Xinjiang, along with Volkswagen’s compliance and external relations chiefs in China.

Rights groups have documented human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including mass forced labour in detention camps that the U.N. said could constitute crimes against humanity. China has denied any abuses in Xinjiang.

Volkswagen says it has never found evidence of forced labour among its Xinjiang work force and its presence is positive for locals. It denied reports it had kept the plant open because Beijing had imposed a condition it had to keep producing across China.

“I can talk to people and draw my conclusions. I can try and verify the facts [from joint venture partner SAIC], and that’s what I did. I didn’t find any contradictions,” Brandstaetter said, adding it was his first visit but not his last.

Brandstaetter said he spoke at length to seven workers individually – including Han Chinese, Uyghurs and Kazakhs – some through a Volkswagen translator and some in English, and held shorter discussions with other workers on his tour, which he said occurred without government supervision.

But Luke de Pulford of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of legislators from thirty democratic countries including Britain, Germany, and

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