The annual business confidence survey published by the German Chamber of Commerce (AHK) in China asks more questions than it answers, says DW's Frank Sieren.
The situation appears serious. The number of German businesses that invested and created jobs in China has fallen to its lowest rate since 2012. This is according to a business confidence survey conducted by the German Chamber of Commerce in China (AHK). AHK president Lothar Herrmann said in Beijing earlier this week that 2016 would probably go down as one of the most difficult years for German companies in China. Well, there seems to be mixed feelings but the survey does not confirm these. Of the 5000 odd German companies in China, about half are members of the AHK. Of these, only 428 participated in the survey. This means we actually now know what almost a random selection of AHK members - 17 percent - believe. But we do not really know what German businesses in China think.
It is possible that those who did participate in the survey are those who are more worried? Or did they participate because they feel a sense of duty? Or are those who are really worried about the future not answer at all, perhaps because they want to imagine a rosier picture of the situation? Who knows? But the fact is that 90 percent of those who participated said they had no plans to leave China, which is confusing. The most difficult year seems to be one full of contradictions.
What is certainly clear is that this non-representative survey did not reveal anything new. We already know that German managers would like the same access to the Chinese market as Chinese managers in Germany. We also already knew that they will not get it. Furthermore, it is not a secret that inadequate legal clarity and stability present hurdles for Germany companies. Nor is it a secret that internet restrictions and its slow speed also pose a hindrance.
No resilient foundation
The fact that only half of those polled feel that the internet slows down their work is astonishing but nothing more. Others probably communicate by mainly by phone. And only 58 percent complained about the poor air quality. My own impression is that this should be 100 percent. But that's also just a feeling. The fact that every fourth company predicted a loss of profits was shocking enough to hit the headlines. But a closer analysis reveals that only 4.25 percent of the overall members said this - 25 percent of 17 percent. This can be dismissed with an attitude of 'you win some you lose some'. The same goes for the 5 percent which now feel less welcome in China. Maybe it is time for them to go home. But 50 percent of the random selection of 428 think that 2017 will be as good as 2014. And that was one of the most successful years for the German businesses. So can you call those who were polled optimists? Or are they just trying to muster courage?
More questions than answers
The poll has ended up asking more questions than it answers. The Chinese market is too important for Germany for such hocus-pocus. You could get an equally vague idea by talking to customers at Schindler, the German butchers in Beijing. Next year, the AHK China should invest in a solid, representative survey, not a confused one. It owes this to China, Germany and its members.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.