Walmart scares no one in China. Though the massive US retail chain has been in China for over 15 years, many Shanghaians have to think before recognising the name. "We have had no damage because of them," says a senior Chinese wire service editor. And this in a city that is the shopping capital of the Middle Kingdom.
Walmart, and other foreign multinational retails, have been in China for years without much fuss. This is no surprise. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce lists 2,400 different foreign retail enterprises in the country.
As of 2009, they had invested nearly $5 billion in the country. But they still account for only 12% of China's massive $1.8 trillion retail market.
Walmart has been a laggard even among other Western retailers. French-owned Carrefour, say most Chinese, has been a greater success. But even that chain is dwarfed by Chinese companies like Gome Electrical Appliances and Wumart.
Walmart's main accomplishment in China is its use of the country as an export hub, buying local goods by the billion and selling them in its outlets worldwide. If Walmart had been an independent country it would be among China's 10 largest trading partners.
Regional and ethnic differences still matter enough in China that no company, local or foreign, can claim to be dominant. Xiao, a business newspaper reporter expressed surprise that India was still to allow foreign retailers into the country. In China, there is no concern and no protest even though, unlike India, China was coerced into allowing Walmart and Best Buy entry as a price for World Trade Organisation membership.