Shanghai expo draws 400 Japanese-owned businesses

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Left: Honda Motor Co.’s ‘e:N2’ Concept sedan is exhibited at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Saturday.
Right: Toyota Motor Corp. exhibits the ‘bZ3’ electric vehicle at the expo on Saturday.

SHANGHAI — About 400 Japanese-owned businesses are participating in the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, primarily in the automobile, electronics and food sectors. Yet, there are risks to being involved in such a large expo amid the spread of the novel coronavirus and changes in the security environment.

The companies are showcasing new products and technologies at the massive six-day trade fair, which began Saturday and is sponsored by the Chinese government. Many are expecting to conduct large-scale business negotiations and conclude deals.

Honda Motor Co. on Saturday debuted its e:N2 Concept sedan, a new concept model for an electric vehicle. This is Honda’s third EV model targeting China, but the company has yet to decide when it will be launched.

“Honda will transform itself into an electric brand by delivering diverse, unique electric vehicles to customers in China,” Honda President Toshihiro Mibe said.

The carmaker expects to begin exporting EVs produced in China to Europe in 2023, further strengthening its emphasis on China as a production base.

Toyota Motor Corp. is exhibiting its bZ3 electric sedan for China, developed jointly with Chinese EV maker BYD. The model was released late last month, and is the first sedan type in Toyota’s popular series.

The shift to EVs is rapidly proceeding in China, the world’s largest automobile market. The Chinese government has set a goal of making EVs the mainstream of new car sales by 2035.

Many Western manufacturers, including the U.S.-based Tesla Inc., are also exhibiting at the expo. The venue has been dominated by exhibits that are strongly aware of the huge size of the market, with a major South Korean company displaying a sign that states “Rooted in China, creating the future together.”

These trends have been the main battleground for motor shows in various regions in China.

With the spread of the novel coronavirus, however, the Guangzhou Motor Show slated for mid- or late November was rescheduled, following the postponement of the Beijing Motor Show in the spring. For this reason, many companies are believed to be placing more emphasis on the import expo than in previous years.

The China International Import Expo was launched in 2018 at the initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“[The import expo] is a window for building a new pattern of development and a foundation for promoting a high level of economic openness [in China],” Xi said in a video speech at the opening ceremony Friday.

Many companies exhibiting at the event are seeking to establish a pipeline of business connections with attendees, who include senior officials from central and local governments. Xi began his third term in power late last month and is poised to further strengthen his control over businesses and the economy by upholding his zero-COVID policy.

When the China International Import Expo was first held in 2018, the number of participating Japanese affiliates was about 470, the most of any country, but this year’s figure is about 400, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

“We were unable to enter China due to COVID-related restrictions, so we had to give up on participating in the event,” a company official said.

However, other possible factors behind the lower number include moves to secure supply chains not including China, economic slowdown and restrictions on business activity due to the pandemic.