OK, my two Eurocents.
As you may know, I model HO scale, German 1920s layout along with some 1950s Danish stuff.
As for the China bit, I always try to buy if not German, then at least EU produced models. Gützold, or Fleischmann, both still produce entirely (Gützold) or mainly (Fleischmann) in Germany, Roco makes most of its stuff in Slovakia, Märklin/Trix in Hungary. In essence, I´m very wary of models made in China.
Whenever I needed a Gützold spare part in the past, I called them by phone, (adjusted to the Saxonian dialect
), and asked them for the part. These people were so well trained that it was enough to tell them I needed a front lamp for my class 52, rather than having to juggle with 8-digit spare part numbers. I always received what I needed within 3-4 days, free of charge. They always asked me if I was satisfied with their models, or if there are any issues with them that I´d want to pass on (nope, they´re great, and I really mean it). Roco was a bit less friendly, didn´t ask about the models, but sent me the spares as well.
Hornbyrossi asked me to return the model to my dealer for a refund, no, sorry, we don´t care, we just sell the stuff, so there. No service. No spares available. Only trial-and-error Chinese junk. However, I like to get spares when I need them, say, at least in a period of 5 years from purchase. Or would you buy a car that you´d have to have towed to the scapyard due to "sorry, no mufflers available, we just sell them but keep no spares in stock"? I figured so.
Brawa is a notable exception, as they do keep a certain stock of spares available (I called and asked). But then again, the price is a bit steeper than the rest.
Second, do I really save money if I buy Chinese models? I don´t know my way around the UK social security system well enough, but over here, I have to pay (through taxes and increased social security fares deducted from my pay) for those that have been laid off because production has been shifted to China. I as a taxpayer have to cover their doctor´s and hospital bills. I as a taxpayer have to pay for the communities where these people used to work to prevent them from deteriorating. I as a citizen have to put up with higher crime rates, libraries closing down, schools deteriorating due to the fact that (often a majority within the communities) people who used to pay for the well-being of their surroundings can no longer do so because they have been laid off, production now in the far east. I too suffer from less busses taking me home as the tax income of my town has dropped so far that they can no longer afford the services that they could pay for when employment was higher.
"And what does that have to do with model trains?", you may ask. "There weren´t so many employees making them.". True. But considering the unemployment rate before and after Märklin shut down their Sonneberg/Thüringen plant, it does make a difference. The several production lines - stereos, TVs, toys, model trains, automotive parts, you-name-it - that are being shifted to China are a steady trickle of economic power being lost, probably forever. Because it is not just that the well-off are hooked on cheap Chinese stuff; many poorer or newly impoverished people simply can´t afford anything else. A vicious circle.
When Trix was still in Nürnberg, a friend of mine called them because he wanted to have a certain Bavarian freight car made by them. They considered it, an - actually made it, they asked him to provide information on the car, and a few years later, they produced it. Can you as a customer try to influence a Chinese factory like that?
Last but not least, do I want to support the work conditions that are omnipresent in China? Slavery may be abolished in the western world, but China is not the West. Do I have the willpower to forget what the migrant workers in China are being treated like just because that treatment saves me a couple of Euros? No, I don´t.
Chinese production may be OK for short runs of exotic products. I, too, have a few model engines Made in China. But a product always has a certain value, and the price of a certain item reflects that value. If not, then somebody along the line has to pay for that difference between price and value. And we, along with the Chinese workers, do pay through our noses.