By the time the People’s Republic of China celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2049, it plans to have evolved into what President Xi describes as a ‘great modern socialist country’.

This is not without its challenges, including adapting to an aging population, stimulating domestic consumption and balancing growth with a sustainable future.

However, these are also opportunities and between its tech savvy population, focus on high tech industries and investment in innovation, China looks set to deliver long term value.

Authorised clients of UBS Investment Bank can log in to UBS Neo for more insights.

China's strategic shift up the global value chain

Chinese firms will continue to harness innovation to move up the value chain and produce higher-end goods, reducing dependency on foreign markets and strengthening supply chain security. Whilst that maps the secular trend that saw China’s exports fall from a peak 35% of GDP in 2007 to 17% in 2020, the combined impact of pandemic and increasing protectionism has highlighted the importance of homegrown growth.

“Staying competitive means moving up, and moving up means investing and innovating,” says Dr Wang Tao, Head of Asia Economics and Chief China Economist, UBS. “Ten years ago, there was debate over whether China could avoid the middle income trap when you no longer have cheap labor but you're not innovating either. R&D spending in China has grown very fast over the past decade, and annual spending is catching up with the US.”


The central role of innovation

Beijing’s ongoing emphasis on the importance for businesses to upgrade capabilities to maintain competitiveness tallies with the direction in which it wants to guide the economy. At the top end, innovation hotspots include semiconductors, tech hardware, autonomous driving and EVs. Read more here.

However, the role of innovation in China’s rise up the global value chain ranks won’t be limited to the development of next generation cutting-edge technologies. “Technology upgrade also means adapting to the market, increasing efficiencies and increasing productivity,” says Tao, adding that given the size of the Chinese market, “there’s huge potential”.

Smart manufacturing, combining digitally driven increased automation and data analytics to improve manufacturing performance and productivity, will play a key role facilitating the holistic nature of China’s output upgrade. Expect China’s capabilities to expand across intermediate goods and components, electrical equipment, electrical machinery and the production of machine tools.

A reduced demand for property in China will be matched by a declining need for the energy-intensive and resource-intensive heavy industries which support it. Whilst China will remain a significant producer and consumer of construction materials, factories are being retrofitted to become cleaner, more energy efficient, and able to produce higher-quality materials.

Green shoots of green growth

With China’s journey to 2049 running concurrently with the global effort to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060, expect green growth to play a significant role.

“The green finance business is rapidly expanding in China,” explains Ronald Wu, Head of APAC ESG at UBS Global Research. “Regulators are committed to achieving a greener economic transformation on top of the 2060 carbon neutrality goal and we expect green loans and bonds to evolve into a RMB62 trillion / RMB8 trillion market in 2031E, implying a 10-year CAGR of 14.5% and 22.2% respectively.”

Brendon Tu, Head of APAC ESG Advisory concurs: “Many China corporates are quickly strengthening their environmental and social initiatives. In embracing the evolving local and global regulatory changes, they’re leveraging the opportunities to offer higher quality products to their customers, both B2B and B2C and capturing “green” capital regionally and globally.”

Beyond financing, China’s private corporations and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have also helped nurture climate tech. Some of China’s largest tech companies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions from their operations by 2030, as well as establish green tech funds to support research. At the national level, China’s National Green Development Fund (launched in 2020) recently initiated its first investments. Greening the steel sector is just one of many areas it is focused on, with funds already committed.

The green finance business is rapidly expanding in China.
Ronald Wu, Head of APAC ESG, UBS

An aging population is an enabler of domestic consumption

As China continues to look for ways to stimulate its economy to 2049, raising the role of household domestic consumption in driving demand remains key. While Gen Z and Millennials are key, so too is China’s ‘silver’ economy has an important role to play,

China's elderly are increasing rapidly in numbers: the 55+ cohort have doubled in size in the past two decades to 378m last year, or 27% of the total population. By 2050, this group is expected to reach 46%. Tao believes their needs may result in more senior care provision, an improved pensions system and upgraded health care. “Such progress would be an important step in China’s authentic development into an advanced economy and would offer a social safety net reflective of the long-term goal of common prosperity.”

China’s silver economy

UBS China 360 team recently dug into the minds and wallets of China's urban elderly leveraging UBS Evidence Lab's China Aging Population Impact Survey. Some insights from the survey include:

  • Physical exercise tops the routine activities the survey's elderly respondents like to engage in, with 69% saying they do it regularly
  • Online shopping and watching short videos/Livestreaming follow, with 58% and 57% respectively doing these regularly
  • This cohort also cares about their health. About 42% reported taking health supplements regularly, 24% are TCM users, 22% opt for dental care
  • With their free time, these customers are also increasingly important to the travel industry. Travel portals now have dedicated sections for elderly clientele and tour operators customize itineraries for older customers
When today's working population - who are more accustomed to spending on themselves - grows old, these numbers could be even higher.
Natalie Cade, Head of UBS China 360

China already has high online penetration, and incremental opportunities are in the older and younger cohorts. UBS believes internet companies can benefit more from the adoption and engagement of older users, compared to younger users where regulation has tightened in recent years. "One advantage older people might have over younger users is their spending power, making it possible for internet companies to ramp up ARPU faster. We see online entertainment, such as videos and games, and consumption, including e-commerce and travel, benefitting from this trend." Jerry Liu, Head of China / HK Internet at UBS Global Research.

For more on China’s way ahead

Charting China’s comeback

Examining the drivers that will power the economy onto a course of accelerating growth in 2023.

Inside China’s innovation engine

Tech hardware, EVs, entrepreneurs - examining China’s blueprints for innovation capable of super scaling economic growth

Authorised clients of UBS Investment Bank can log in to UBS Neo for more insights.