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Made in China, loved everywhere

By William Daniel Garst | China Daily | Updated: 2011-08-05 07:55
Product placement has long been ubiquitous in Hollywood movies. Everyone who watched the 1981 blockbuster E.T. remembers ET croaking out "Reese's pieces" while happily munching down the trail Elliot has left for him. In his later film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg made sure to include the Mercedes Benz logo in the close up shots of the SUV that Jeff Goldblum and his team use to explore the park.

But the latest Transformers movie, Transformers 3: The Dark Side of the Moon, which opened in China in late July, breaks new ground in the product placement department by featuring four famous Chinese brands.

A TCL flatscreen TV makes a brief appearance in the film, while the spiky haired robot, Brains, transforms itself out of a Lenovo Edge Computer. The protagonist of the film, Sam, sports a T-shirt from Meters/Bonwe, a mid-level Chinese retailer with a large follower among hip, younger clothes buyers in China. And in one scene, a scientist says he needs to quickly finish his Yili Shuhua low-lactose milk first.

This development underscores how China is once again reinventing itself economically. The latest makeover involves moving from producing cheap clothing and toys to higher-end products. Companies like Lenovo, which lobbied hard for product placement in Transformers 3, are determined to compete globally on the basis of quality and brand name recognition.

Data on the Chinese economy clearly point to this shift in its manufacturing mix. According to a report, authored by Will Freeman of GaveKal Research in Beijing, the share of high-tech products in China's exports has risen from 19 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2009.

In the past, these high-tech exports consisted of products whose components, like computer motherboards, were made elsewhere, in South Korea and Japan, for example, to be assembled in China. That is no longer the case, for Suzhou has become a key production base for sophisticated X-ray printers and network routers and switches.

The GaveKal report shows that China's rapid emergence as an exporter of capital equipment, as opposed to primary and light manufactured goods. In fact, during the past decade, China's share of global exports of capital equipment has quadrupled, from 2 to 8 percent.

Finally, China is emerging as the new global renewable energy giant, too. In 2009, for example, it overtook the United States as the world's largest market for wind turbines, while State-owned power plants are competing to see who can build solar plants the fastest.

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