A Case Study of German FDI in China

Table of contents


This study deals with an analysis of German FDI in China using the OLI framework, an eclectic framework for analysing FDI. Other theories that aid in explaining German FDI’s motives and prospects in China are the internalisation theory and the product cycle theory.
This study is mainly qualitative, using secondary data from existing literature. It suggests that German FDI is guided by internalisation advantages, location-specific advantages, and ownership advantages in its motives and prospects in the Chinese market. The internalisation advantages for German FDI in China include incentives derived from conducting such FDI in the country over other locations or through exporting. Location-specific advantages are identified as cheap, trained labour, export-oriented nature of existing FDI, quality of local infrastructure, access to natural resources, and cooperation agreements with local suppliers and the Chinese government. Ownership advantages, on the other hand, are identified as technology-based infrastructure and management know-how.


This report deals with the analysis of motives and prospects within the OLI framework, focusing on a case study of German foreign direct investment (FDI) in China. To begin with, it is important to define and describe what the OLI Framework is.
The OLI framework was developed by Dunning (2010) and is considered an eclectic approach to the study of FDI. It has been a guaranteed viable means to think about MNEs, which likewise paved the way for a range of applied works in economics and international business. Albeit it does not constitute a formal theory in itself, the OLI framework is nevertheless helpful in classifying many recent empirical and analytical studies concerning FDI (Reinert et al., 2009).
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been an important characteristic of globalisation. It is different from portfolio investment since it involves a package of assets and intermediate products and is generally carried out by MNEs (Blanco and Razzaque, 2011).
Germany is China’s most important trade partner from Europe. In 2003, German companies were placed as the top European investors in China and were ranked as the seventh largest investors in the country. Albeit the ˆ7.9 billion investment of German companies in China comprised a tenfold increase from 1995, this only constituted 1.2 per cent of total German FDI. Most of these investors were manufacturing companies (around 2/3 of all German investors). Some of the pioneer German companies in China are Bayer, Siemens, and Volkswagen, which have been doing business with China for more than a hundred years (Reinert et al., 2009).
China has large market potential as proved by about 76 million abundant consumers in the country, which is even larger than Germany’s total population. China is also characterised by low-cost assembly line, which serves as a major driver for investing in the country. Apart from it, its WTO membership has been an important driving factor behind German FDI, as WTO enabled easier access to China’s market (Bao, Lin, and Zhao, 2012; Reinert et al., 2009).
The issues besetting German FDI in China are the unrelenting legal uncertainties in the country, as shown by the lack of intellectual property rights protection; limited market transparency; the rapidly changing regulatory framework conditions and obstacles; inadequate potential supplier networks; and difficulty in searching for relevant market information due to the problem involving the identification of individual market segments (Reinert et al., 2009). Potential German investments also face high input prices in China, such as high prices for raw materials and electricity, thereby making it all the more difficult to attain profit margins. There is also a rising competition in China in the midst of the growing attractiveness of its market.
Given this context, this research intends to look into the intentions and outlook of German FDI in China, using the OLI framework to evaluate them.

1.1 Objectives of the Research

The objectives of the research are described as follows:
To analyse the German FDI in China in terms of its motives and prospects within the OLI framework;
To describe the theoretical underpinnings surrounding German FDI activities in China; and
To analyse how the OLI framework functions as a relevant model for the dynamic development of MNEs and German FDI within the increasingly growing Chinese market.

Literature Review

This part of the research report presents an array of published works relating to the topic of investigation to give light to the important concepts and to serve as evidence to the claim that may be posited. It also involves a description of methodology and data used.

2.1 Methodology and Data Used

This research is characteristically qualitative, which means that it is value-bound and relies on interpretations. It is predominantly inductive and is carried out in natural settings, discounting the use of quantities and measurements, which are confined within the domain of quantitative research (Klenke, 2008).
This research also uses a case study method, which is described as “the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case” (Simons, 2009: 19), which in this report is the German FDI in China. Case study as this report’s research approach acknowledges the tradition in which it is drawn upon, specifically qualitative research (Simons, 2009).
Secondary data are solely used for this report. These are data that have been collected by a person (e.g. an author) and are being used by another (e.g. a researcher) for his/her own purpose (Oleckno, 2008). These data are therefore non-original. In this research report, they are mainly taken from books, academic journals, and relevant online resources relative to the topic being investigated.
The search engines used to locate the needed materials are Google, Scholar Google, and Books Google, from which a number of sources have been uncovered. The journal articles utilised from these search engines are published by Wiley and Elsevier.

2.2 Literature Review on the Motives and Prospects of German FDI in China

According to Zhang (2005), China’s location characteristics would help to understand and appreciate massive FDI in the country. The four determinants of China’s location-specific factors for the influx of FDI are its export-promotion strategy for FDI, its dominant availability of cheap labour, and export-orientation of FDI injected by the countries entering China. In the case of Hong Kong and Taiwan, unique links with China (the Chinese connections) are important determinants. The study uses a qualitative method and a case study design in dealing with the subject matter. Its applicability to the topic under investigation is seen in its direct focus on FDI in China and how China has flourished as a location for countries to engage in FDI. The limitation posed by the study is its emphasis in Hong Kong and Taiwan and does not include German FDI, which does not however mean that the study is already totally irrelevant.
In the work of Chen and Reger (2006), German FDI in China has been described as one that has grown larger in size and of higher quality (alongside related technological activities), with long-term motives and broad market orientation. German FDI also seeks new markets and expands market shares within China. The authors second Zhang’s (2005) earlier claim for FDI determinants in China, such as cheap, abundant labour, and export orientation; and added some more, including China’s huge domestic market, access to natural resources, and enforced tax incentives. The research approaches used by the authors include a mail survey and a database analysis. The work is applicable to the present study because of its emphasis on the nature of German FDI in China.
In a separate study by Pikos (2013), the author presents an investigation of the consequences of FDI for German companies in China. The author highlights the differences amongst the following: FDI in China, FDI elsewhere, and exporting. When size and sector activity are controlled, attributes to FDI in China include turnover, employment, net income, profit margins, and total assets, to name some. Albeit performance is boosted through FDI elsewhere, this is however on smaller scale. It is noted that investing in China results in better outcomes than doing FDI in another country, and this is due to China’s large and rapidly growing market. The methods used by Pikos (2013) are descriptive and econometric analysis in order to address the research topic. The applicability of the work to this research is its description of German FDI in China, thereby aiding the research to give light to the topic. A limitation of the study is its focus on location-specific factors for FDI.
On the other hand, Zhang and van den Bulcke (1999) state that the expansion of FDI and its embodied technology are two of the key forces that molded the development of the Chinese automotive industry. Germany is an important source of inward FDI in China’s automotive industry, third to Hong Kong and the United States respectively. FDI in the automotive industry during the 80s was highly focused on the assembly of whole vehicles. In the 1990s, FDI became highly concentrated on the manufacturing of parts and components. Since the Chinese government in the 1990s had strict control of the Greenfield investment projects for whole vehicle manufacturing, the latecomers encountered quite high entry barriers since dominant positions were already occupied by early movers. European automotive multinationals strongly influenced the restructuring of China’s automotive industry since the 80s. Moreover, China’s European car manufacturers have engaged in cooperation agreements with the Chinese government and local suppliers and often extend technical and financial assistance to local suppliers. An example of this is a 5-billion Chinese Yuan contribution of Shanghai Volkswagen for localisation funds (Zhang and van den Bulcke, 1999). The approach of Zhang and van den Bulcke’s (1999) study is chronological, mainly basing from existing secondary literature. The study is relevant and applicable to the topic under investigation as it provides useful and sufficient insights on the nature of the Chinese automotive industry and the chronological development of European FDI in the country, which can aid in analysing the current motives and outlook of German FDI in China. The research limitation is bounded within the study’s concentration on the Chinese automotive manufacturing industry.

Analysis and Discussion

The analysis and discussion provided for this research report is anchored on the literature review being carried out for German FDI in China.

3.1 Analysis of German FDI in China Using the OLI Framework

The OLI Framework pertains to the three potential sources of advantage; namely Ownership, Location, and Internalisation, that lie beneath an organisation’s decision to enter into a multinational level of operation. Ownership advantages explain the reason/s why firms operate abroad whilst others do not, and indicate that successful multinational enterprises (MNEs) possess firm-specific benefits that enable them to overcome the costs entailed in operating in a foreign country. Location advantages, on the other hand, concentrate on the location aimed by an MNE (Reinert et al., 2009). Access to natural resources serves as a location advantage for choosing China for which to invest, as in the case of German FDI. Additional determinants of location selection for FDI are availability of cheap trained labour (e.g. Chen and Reger, 2006; Pikos, 2013; Zhang, 2005) and quality of local infrastructure (Tang, et al., 2012). Other critical factors are a smooth relationship with Chinese authorities, both central and local; and experience to cope with Chinese bureaucracy (Tang, et al., 2012). Such relationship is the bottom line for German FDI to engage in cooperation agreements with the Chinese government and local suppliers, as earlier highlighted by Zhang and van den Bulcke (1999). Zhang (2005) also highlighted in his work that China’s location characteristics would help to understand and appreciate massive FDI in the country.
Internalisation advantages – another embodiment of the OLI framework – provide the influence on how a firm decides to operate abroad, making a trade-off between transaction savings and monitoring costs of a completely-owned subsidiary, on one hand; and the advantages of other forms of entry, such as joint venture and exports, on the other. A main characteristic of this approach is that it provides emphasis on the incentives for the individual firm. Mainstream international trade theory has considered this a current standard, which was not the case in the 1970s when FDI was classically regarded as an international movement of physical capital in pursuit of higher returns (Reinert et al., 2009; Taliman, 2007). The internalisation advantages embodied in the OLI framework are also found in the study of Pikos (2013) in the literature review, which magnifies the differences amongst conducting FDI in China, elsewhere, or through exporting, apparently aiming to ascertain the incentives that can be gained from choosing the most suitable out of the three options.
The OLI framework is in fact an eclectic paradigm that provides a general theoretical framework for ascertaining firms’ FDI activities beyond their national borders. The eclectic paradigm is an analytical theory that accommodates other FDI theories and views most of the theories as having complementariness with each other (rather than having substitutability) of which their application can be fully enhanced (Tang et al., 2012).
Internationalisation theory is one of the general theories of FDI, which views a MNE as an organisation that engages in utilising its internal market to produce products and distribute them efficiently in situations where a regular market encounters failure of operation. In effect, the internationalisation theory regards MNES taking on FDI activities abroad as a way to respond to goods and factor market imperfections, which have in fact prevented international trade and investment to operate efficiently (Tang et al., 2012). Through FDI, MNEs are able to produce and distribute their products via internal markets, thereby enabling them to optimise efficient production and improve the total profits. This notion must also constitute the motives and prospects for German FDI to conduct business in China. It must be noted that a MNE only employs FDI if the cost is outweighed by the benefits (Suneja, 2006; Tang et al., 2012). Worthy of note is the idea that in the lens of the internationalisation theory, knowledge, information, and research are intermediate products to be readily and directly traded to other countries due to the risk of loss of knowledge advantage (Rugman, 2002). However, MNEs possess vertical and horizontal integration, enabling the creation of their own internal markets, whereby intermediate products such as technology know-how are converted as a firm’s valuable property. This reflects the ownership advantage embodied in the OLI framework, as discussed by Reinert et al. (2009) and Taliman (2007). Hence, as the MNE sustains its competitive advantage, its ownership such as management know-how can be utilised and bolstered (Tang et al., 2012). The Uppsala Model looks at the internationalisation process as cyclic, experiential, and resource-based learning-by-doing, which seems to foresee later research flows regarding dynamic capabilities and temporary competitive advantages with the internalisation framework (Sanchez and Heene, 2010). Based on the analysis, the internationalisation theory cannot in fact be seen as a separate body of thought from the OLI framework because it has a similar trail with such framework in relation to understanding the motives of a MNE (e.g. German firm) and its outlook to engage its FDI in a country like China.
Meanwhile, the product cycle theory describes the so-called ‘wild geese flying’ patterns of foreign trade to explain the different economic development phases of countries. This theory cites three phases of industrial development with which each country attempts to elevate itself o the top phase of industrialisation. The theory says that the mature phase takes place once industrialisation development has been extensively laid down over the entire region or country with robust dynamic growth (Tang et al., 2012). It is interesting to consider that the OLI framework may be fastened over the product cycle theory in analysing German FDI in China, and that the relevance of the framework cannot be set aside when the chronological developments involved in the industrialisation process are taken into account. The applicability of the twin analysis of OLI framework and the product cycle theory is seen in Zhang and van den Bulcke’s (1999) study, which uses chronological discussions to describe the growth of European FDI in China, and cites the ownership-specific, location-specific, and internalisation-specific factors of European firms (e.g. German firms) to invest in the Chinese automotive sector.

4. Conclusion

This research report deals with analysing the motives and prospects of German FDI in China within the OLI framework. The OLI framework is an eclectic framework that accommodates other theories of FDI and explains the intentions and outlook of MNEs to engage in FDI in China.
The motives and prospects of German FDI to continuously seek to invest in Chinese market is propelled by internalisation advantages (e.g. incentives through conducting FDI in China rather than elsewhere or through exporting); location-specific advantages (e.g. cheap trained labour, export-orientation of FDI; access to natural resources; quality of local infrastructure; cooperation agreements with the central and local governments and local suppliers); and ownership-specific advantages (e.g. management know-how; technology-based infrastructure). The rapidly growing globalised market ushers the German FDI to continuously seek newer FDI prospects within China, beset by the growing competition and search for competitive advantages.


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Chen, X. and Reger, G. (2006) The Role of technology in the Investment of German Firms in China. Technovation, 26 (3), 407-415.

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