There are two general business travelers to China:
- Consultants, bankers, etc that parachute in to the major cities.
- Importers, manufacturers and others doing gritty on the ground business in China’s manufacturing hubs, the major stretch running along the southeast coast down from Shanghai through Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.
Xiamen Airlines is known to those in category 2, with its hubs in Xiamen, Fuzhou and Hangzhou.
With China Eastern in Shanghai (plus some benefits with Shanghai Airlines as part of China Eastern) and China Southern in Guangzhou, SkyTeam has locked up the critical commercial regions in China, and the strongest China network to East, Central and Southeast Asia.
For Delta flyers, award availability does actually exist on China Eastern and China Southern, though taxes on international flights can sometimes sting.
Star Alliance has Air China, which rivals China Eastern and China Southern, and is based in Beijing, and strong in the north and central regions of China. Air China has partnerships with regional airlines like Shandong Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines. My experience is that Star Alliance benefits rarely apply on those carriers, though China is all about exceptions.
OneWorld serves China through Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific/DragonAir. Except for those based in Hong Kong, that is a costly hub and too much hassle for China visas and such (see comment 5) , to be useful for frequent China travel beyond that quick parachute into a major city.