In China, the business of government is … business

So General Motors has sold Nexteer Automotive -- its 6,000-employee producer of steering parts -- to a Chinese company.

Here's the interesting part: The buyer, Beijing E-Town International Investment & Development Co., is an arm of Beijing's powerful municipal government.

In China, the opaque and Byzantine relationship between business and government leaves many Western businesspeople scratching their heads. But for the Chinese, it's business as usual.

In the West, companies rely on the rule of law to provide a predictable investment climate. In China, business executives rely on government sponsors -- not laws -- for the confidence and capital to make major investments.

That's why government agencies play a major role in the Chinese auto industry, both in China, of course, and as Chinese automakers and suppliers expand overseas.