Much about the project still sounds uncertain.

That it is important is already shown by the ranks of prominent top executives from politics and business who presented it together a few days ago: In addition to the heads of BMW and Daimler, Hildegard Müller, head of the VDA automobile association, and Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier also acted as midwives .

Catena X - named after the Latin word for chain - is about the exchange of data.

As many industrial companies as possible should connect with one another in Germany in the future.

This should allow them to make good progress in global competition and defend their position against an increasingly self-confident and aggressive rival: China.

There is a lot at stake for German companies

The communist leadership there has big plans.

It wants to make the country a global technology leader, build its own national champions and thus become more independent of imports than before.

This is what the new five-year plan provides, which the National People's Congress, the country's bogus parliament, should approve this month.


A lot is at stake for German companies.

"The importance of Asia and especially China for the German economy has never been as great as it was last year," says Mathieu Meyer, member of the management board of EY in Germany.

This is underlined by an analysis by the management consultancy exclusively for WELT.

For this purpose, the EY experts evaluated the available business data for the past twelve months of the DAX companies.

The result: China, Germany's most important trading partner even before the Corona crisis, was able to further expand this position last year.

"The rapid recovery of the Chinese economy after the lockdown measures in spring turned out to be a stroke of luck, especially for German companies," says Meyer.

Source: WORLD infographic

While sales in Europe plummeted due to the pandemic, business in China recovered surprisingly quickly.

“In China, urgently needed sales were generated, from which the companies as a whole benefited greatly,” says Meyer.


The share of business in China in total sales was correspondingly high in the past year.

At the chip manufacturer Infineon it was 29.1 percent, at the pharmaceutical company Merck 14.4 percent and at Siemens 12.7 percent.

Some corporations only report their sales in the Asia-Pacific region.

The share of total sales for the chemical company Covestro is 32.7 percent, the sporting goods manufacturer Adidas 32.6 percent, Beiersdorf 31.5 percent and BASF 26 percent.

Beijing divides into an inner and an outer circle

The dependency of the carmaker has grown particularly strongly recently.

At Daimler, sales in China rose by eleven percent, while total sales shrank by ten percent at the same time, at BMW the increase in China was seven percent, and overall sales fell by eight percent.

Volkswagen sold nine percent less in and to China last year, but the group's overall sales decline was 15 percent.

Overall, China, as a sales market for VW, has a share of 42.2 percent, at Daimler it is now 35.2 percent and at BMW 33.4 percent.

Source: WORLD infographic


In the current year, the share of China in the total turnover of the German corporations will probably decrease again, the EY experts expect.

However, only if the expected and hoped for economic upturn in Europe occurs.

And that is far from certain.

It is also unclear how exactly China's new plans will affect the German economy.

In the future, Beijing will divide the economy into an inner and an outer circle.

With a clear focus on the inside.

The Chinese economy should continue to grow unchecked.

Some large corporations could at least get away with a black eye, since from the perspective of the Communist Party they should belong to the inner circle.

These include, for example, Volkswagen, BASF and Siemens.

You have been working in China for many decades, employing hundreds of thousands of people there and doing almost all business together with local partners, often state-owned companies.

So you can probably continue your business there undisturbed.

For small and medium-sized enterprises that cannot look back on such a history, however, the new Chinese doctrine is likely to become far more problematic.

They are clearly part of the outer circle - and thus part of the economic sector that Beijing wants to take over itself if possible.

In particular, companies that primarily supply primary products to Chinese production sites would be the big losers.

China wants to handle all of its production in its own country as far as possible.

"If China really does get serious, many German medium-sized companies in particular will have to worry," says Jürgen Matthes from the Institute for the German Economy (IW) in Cologne.

“China wants to make itself less susceptible to blackmail by the USA.

That is why it wants less dependency and thus fewer imports.

But this is not only damaging the country, but also Germany in particular, ”says the economist.

Source: WORLD infographic

But even the strategy of manufacturing in China could lead to problems in the medium term.

"The plans in the new five-year plan may mean that you may still do good business there for five years and then be pushed out when German know-how is no longer needed," said Matthes.

Powerful large corporations could then certainly defend themselves a little better than medium-sized companies.

It is not clear to the EY experts what concrete consequences this strategy will ultimately have for foreign companies.

"But overall it will probably be more difficult in the future to generate similarly impressive growth figures in China as in previous years," says Meyer from EY.

One thing is therefore certain: the current dependency of companies is dangerous.

A bulwark called Gaia X


With alliances such as the data exchange project Catena X, the carmakers want to at least partially free themselves from it and prepare for future competition between the economic powers.

Access to data in the artificial intelligence-driven economy is a global question of power.

It's about the control of the supply chains.

Specifically, the project is about establishing a standard for data exchange between companies.

And according to European principles, safe, fair and protected from access, for example by the state.

This makes the Catena X an alternative to China, where the handling of data from the outside is barely traceable and, in case of doubt, the state security has access to everything.

The auto industry will thus become part of an EU bulwark, the data bulwark Gaia X. And it is preparing for the time when China no longer needs it.

Other industries are likely to follow soon.