A deal in China isn't done until the government says so

The Chinese government has blessed Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.'s purchase of Volvo from Ford Motor Co.

That means Volvo gets a new lease on life with a rising Chinese automaker, Geely gets a broader international footprint, and Ford gets to move on with its lean, simplified structure.

And we all get a lesson on how things work in China.

The Geely-Volvo deal offers a striking contrast to the proposed purchase of General Motors' Hummer brand by Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. The Chinese government rejected the Hummer deal in February after it twisted in the wind for several months.

The rationale was somewhat murky. Perhaps Hummer was too much of a gas-guzzler? Perhaps Sichuan Tengzhong, a provincial maker of heavy equipment, wasn't on the government's list of favored automakers?

Hard to tell exactly, but one point was clear: When you sign a deal with a Chinese company, you don't really have a deal. You have a proposal to submit to the government, which will tell you if you have a deal or not.