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What worries me most about China: Caterpillar CEO

China's pace of reforms is a bigger concern than the country's highly leveraged corporate sector for Douglas Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar.

"Our customer base in China is fairly solid - we haven't seen the number of defaults, past-dues, repossessions we had seen in the past. I'm not so worried about that," Oberhelman told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box" on Monday.

"I'm more worried about the pace of reform - opening of the capital market, moving to a market orientation to really propel the economy into the next phase," he added.

Caterpillar Inc. Chairman and CEO Douglas Oberhelman speaks to guests at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
Caterpillar Inc. Chairman and CEO Douglas Oberhelman speaks to guests at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

As the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment Caterpillar is seen as a barometer of economic activity globally.

At the recent National People's Congress, Premier Li Keqiang said reform was the "top priority" for the government, which set the annual growth target at "about" 7.5 percent for 2014.

The government's decision to maintain the same target as last year has raised some doubts about its commitment to reforms. However, the decision by the People's Bank of China to relax its grip on the yuan on March 16 has been welcomed as a sign of financial liberalization.

Oberhelman said that while there is no doubt the world's second largest economy is slowing, he doesn't see a "doom or gloom" scenario playing out.

(Read more: China factory activity contracts further in March)

"We're witnessing a continuing transition from a solid double-digit growth rate a few years ago, down to 7-8 percent and frankly we're all caught up in that kind of a slowdown. That's a big adjustment to make in a fairly short amount of time," he added.

China's transition from an investment-led to a consumption driven economy will impact the company's sales, Oberhelman said. But he added that the government's urbanization drive will continue to spur investment in public infrastructure - which could continue to support demand for construction equipment.

(Read more: China, Japan data in focus for Asia this week )

According to China's urbanization plan for the 2014-2020 period unveiled earlier this month, the government plans a major expansion of its transport networks and urban infrastructure as it seeks to increase migration from rural to urban areas.

Chinese copycats

Since China is the world's largest construction and equipment market, there's no question that Caterpillar faces more competition inside the mainland than anywhere else in the world, Oberhelman said.

"There are probably 100 makers of construction equipment we've identified. We have to be in this market to keep an eye on all the competition," he said.

"We know all of them, they watch us. It's not unlike Japan in the 70s, Korea in the 80s. We've got to be here to know the market and what Chinese companies really want," he added.

(Read more: Behind the massive bet against Caterpillar)

Oberhelman said in his lifetime, there is likely to be a Chinese manufacturer that emerges as a genuine competitor for Caterpillar on a global level.

—By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani. Follow her on Twitter @Ansuya_H