For many, 2011 will be a year to forget. Unlike many other years, including 2008 when markets around the world spectacularly crashed, it was the year when we got a taste of what long-term economic instability and gloom really looks like – and we didn't much like it.
Campaigners like those in the global Occupy movement and the hacktivists that form the amorphous online collective Anonymous, subsequently rose to prominence as the public looked to those who could articulate their anger and disillusionment at the state of things.
Kicking off 2012, then, is a less than mouth-watering prospect, as technology companies from Cisco to Google, Nokia to Fujitsu, all continue on their belt- tightening, streamlining exercises, stripping out unprofitable products and, sadly, highly skilled technicians. Yet there is one part of the world suffering less than any other, where economic growth continues undimmed and global domination lies just around the corner: China.
Of course, this won't come as a surprise to many – the signs were there long before China took over Japan as the world's second largest economy – but given the continued uncertainty in the west, 2012 should represent a renewed opportunity to engage with one of the biggest markets in the world, or at least get familiar with the products and companies that are making their mark on the global stage. Understanding what's going on in the region could even give canny IT leaders a career advantage as they plot their way to success in an increasingly tough corporate climate.
It's become something of a truism that China is an incredibly difficult market for western firms to crack, yet the rewards for those that do are seemingly huge. Not only has the number of web users in the country just passed 500 million, but the market for mobile phones there is larger than Europe, the US and Japan combined.
China's attitude to internet freedom is more problematic, however, posing genuine and difficult questions for those companies looking to invest in the region. In recent years, Cisco and Yahoo, among others, have both been accused by human rights groups of aiding the government in its bid to tighten online censorship. So what should companies do? Is it better to leave China altogether and take a stand, as Google did when it moved its search operations to Hong Kong, or stay and try to work with the authorities?
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