Chanj - You make an excellent comment and I agree. Having worked in quality control in China for over 12 years, it's clear to me that China really is changing in regard to their ability to both produce quality product and innovate. That said, one point here is that OVERSIGHT is key when working with a China manufacturer.
Below, Dylan points out that the Apple success story (of making a quality product in China) is one that is a great example of how a company has produced super high quality product in China. And Apple's key here is clear, consistent, and transparent directions, and oversight.
Companies like Apple and those that have been successful in China use services from from 3rd parties to monitor and inspect the quality of the product, such as these: http://www.intouch-quality.com/services/product-inspections-in-china/product-specific-inspection-types/electric-component-inspections/
"The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality.". Very well said. This is the point. No one manufacturer wants to decline a customer at ANY pricesin China. They can always find a way to solve it. This is a resilience developed under great competition. Think about those Chinese businessmen who became millionares by manufacturing needles and thread.
The primary reason for poor quality is profit taking in the production to retail chain.
In the old days, a US made product made by a brand-name producer might have cost, say, $3 to produce and sold for $10. It was worth the brand-name producer's effort to spend an extra 50c on QA etc to reduce returned goods.
Now, the product is made in China for $1. There is less margin for that 50c of QA etc. The brand-name producer makes more profit than they do. If they get returned goods then it is almost pain free to send a replacement.
The manufacturer is under increased pressure to reduce their costs and remain profitable as wages rise. No wonder they will shave pennies off cost which will result in inferior products.
Nowhere is this more evident than in power tools. If you buy a $20 power sander, odds are that the bearings fail first. If that bearing was replaced with a slightly better bearing (say 20c more) it would last as well as a $100 sander. But the manufacturer is being squeezed. He's only being paid $2 for a sander and that 20c is probably enough to make a loss.
If you want to blame anyone for quality, blame the middle men.
I love hearing about your personal experience working with Huawei engineers, Chanj.
Nothing can beat the first-hand experience to understand what's going on.
As for your comment about R&D in China, I agree...that seems to be the case most of the time.
However, things are beginning to change as a multinational like Marvell investing in installing big R&D teams right there in Shanghai and Nanjing.
See the story below:
As I understood China while being there on routine visits for over a year, is that Chinese can make a good product as well as a cheap product depending upon how much you are ready to pay for it. If you bargain for a cheaper price you will get a inferior product but if you demand quality you must be ready to shell out the right price. The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality. And this they do it so smartly that unless you are an expert buyer you will feel never know it.
Personally, I believe a most important factor is not mentioned here yet---the "Performance/Price Ratio". Very few people are thirsty to extreme Performance(high quality) and very few people to extreme Price(very cheap) either. Most of us want a reasonable quality at a reasonable price, i.e, a reasonable Ratio. From this perspective, Chinese products have a very good Performance/Price Ratio over all.
But, these are Apple products, made to Apple specs, and managed by Apple. On the other hand, products designed by Chinese companies, mfgd by Chinese companies with their own QA standards, that's a totally different story.