The Platform

DoloresMinette/DeviantArt; Photo illustration by John Lyman

Forget Tesla or Ford, China has become an automotive juggernaut.

In the swiftly evolving landscape of the global automotive industry, 2023 marked a pivotal chapter as China exported an unprecedented 4.91 million vehicles, surpassing Japan’s significant yet lower export tally of 4.42 million vehicles. This momentous 57% increase over the prior year’s figures is a bellwether of China’s electric vehicle (EV) sector’s explosive growth, with a notable statistic that one in three exported Chinese cars is now electric.

China’s automotive exports, extending their reach across more than 200 countries and regions, stand as a powerful emblem of the nation’s pervasive automotive influence. This industry is not merely a cornerstone of China’s economic framework but also a formidable engine for employment, sustaining the livelihoods of some 4 million individuals.

The same year, BYD, China’s vanguard in the EV industry, outstripped Tesla in sales, thereby securing a strategic pole position in the EV market. This victory is emblematic of China’s overarching strategy that extends beyond mere production; it is a clear signal of mastery over the critical EV battery sector, with China commanding a 56% share of the global market.

These developments resonate with the analytical forecasts of industry experts. With transportation responsible for 27% of global carbon emissions, there is a recognized imperative to shift away from traditional vehicles. Complementing this is the projection from Wood Mackenzie, which posits that by the mid-21st century, our planet will host 700 million EVs, with annual sales expected to soar to 62 million units.

Given these elements, China is undeniably equipped with the requisite resources and conditions to play a dominant role in the EV market. These include a vast domestic market, robust governmental support through strategic policies, and a stronghold over indispensable natural resources like nickel and lithium. China’s extensive investments across continents like Asia, Africa, and South America further cement its supply chain for battery production, positioning China at the forefront of the global march towards electric mobility—a testament to its strategic foresight and adaptability in response to the evolving global energy and environmental landscape.

China’s concerted efforts to diminish its dependence on oil imports dovetail with its broader foreign policy aims. The transportation sector, a significant oil import segment, comprises nearly half of China’s total oil imports. Projections indicate that China’s oil imports may peak at 780 million barrels in 2024, with a forecasted gradual reduction leading up to 2050. This is operationalized within China’s target that by 2025, one in five cars sold will be electric, and by 2035, EVs will dominate the automotive market.

The transformation of China’s automotive industry is a testament to meticulous and far-sighted planning. Following his inauguration in 2012, President Xi Jinping envisioned a prosperous China by 2049, predicated on achieving a per capita income of $10,000 by 2021 and transitioning China into a developed, affluent, and globally influential nation. To actualize this vision, the Chinese government promulgated the “Made in China 2025” national strategic plan and industrial policy in 2015.

The “Made in China 2025” initiative is a concerted government-led endeavor aimed at metamorphosing China’s manufacturing sector from being labor-intensive to becoming a hub of technological innovation within a decade. A significant pillar of this strategy is the nurturing and expansion of indigenous electric vehicle brands, signifying China’s commitment to sustainable mobility and pioneering green technology, in concert with the international pivot towards clean energy vehicles. Furthermore, Chinese financial institutions are providing vital support to companies engaged in the raw materials mining sector, enhancing the initiative’s framework.

Ron Matthews, a Professor of Defense Economics at Cranfield University, asserts that a nation’s defense capabilities are deeply intertwined with its economic robustness and capacity for continual innovation. In this light, the burgeoning innovations within the electric vehicle sector are set to catalyze significant economic expansion, with potential spillover effects bolstering the defense industry. Notable advancements in commercial technologies, such as three-dimensional printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, have already precipitated transformative shifts in military operations and defense strategies.

China’s global standing has been rigorously challenged by the United States and its allies on numerous fronts, including allegations of human rights violations against the Uyghur ethnic group, accusations of intellectual property theft, the contentious origins of COVID-19, and geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea. Despite these disputes, China has maintained a steadfast refutation of these allegations.

Amid these geopolitical skirmishes, a rare alignment surfaces on the environmental front. The two powers, traditionally at odds, have brokered a truce over climate change, concurring on the criticality of cooperative action. This détente was formalized with both nations’ accession to the Paris Agreement in 2015. Advancing beyond mere agreement, China has vaulted into action, vowing to combat climate change through its ambitious Net Zero Emission 2060 initiative. At the crux of this pledge lies the promotion of electric vehicles—a cornerstone in China’s grand strategy to reconcile rapid development with ecological stewardship.

Gufron Gozali is a junior research assistant from the Islamic University of Indonesia, whose research focuses on the United States and the Middle East.