Tuesday, November 11, 2008

China impressions

I have had a fascinating and enjoyable visit to China. I spent a month here in 1988 but, Beijing at least, is an entirely new city now. I am sometimes not a great supporter of Chinese policies but, to their credit, the achievement of the Chinese authorities in constructing the new Beijing is in many respects remarkable. Beijing is modern, swanky and would be even an attractive place to visit as a tourist. Moreover, it is not just entrepreneurial spirit that is doing this - the ordered attractivess of Beijing contrasts starkly with unplanned city growth in the sub-continent and in cities such as Bangkok. Things work in Beijing and the city is highly liveable!

I have been am particularly fascinated by the beautiful Peking University Campus and by the happy youth here. Many foreign students are also here studying happily. The Chinese hospitality to visitors is superb. The Chinese postgraduate students are intelligent and have strong academic motivation. Their questions on my climate change policy were rewarding to me and valuable as a way of improving the paper. One perceptive student criticised global trading arrangements to implement low cost global carbon controls from the perspective of Coasian transactions costs! These students know a lot of economics. The students even have an 'on campus' group which studies climate change.

To be frank I can think of no comparable group in Australia. I wonder why not. Why the difference?

I also wonder why it is that Australia sees Chinese students as a source of university funding rather than a chance to interact with a great civilisation. Foreign students in China have a Chinese buddy who helps them with such things as language difficulties. Why doesn't Australia do the same thing?

I think Australia has things to learn and mimic from the new China.

My provisional overall impressions about China? Too many to blog about and far too contradictory at this stage - yes it was only a short visit. Nearly forty years ago I heard the Zen philosopher Alan Watts say that the two things that would most drive the world's future were LSD and China. I think he got the first one wrong but on the second point I feel he is right. China will be both the world power and the key global economic force - that is something I have long believed. But China will also be a world cultural and academic centre. The signs are all there. The Chinese place a high priority on education, on learning from the rest of the world and have a candidness about current Chinese problems.

The fact of Chinese wealth and power is vaguely known to many. The Chinese themselves see it more clearly and are already preparing for hickups in terms of perceived 'threats from China' as the world comes to see it more starkly as a reality. The world's economic institutions were designed without China's blessing - I am sure they will insist on more regulated structures. Many other things will change as the dominant role of the US and Europe fade.

I'll try to sort out my ideas on these issues at a future date. At present I am typing these notes on the free internet service at Hong Kong airport. I like the fact that luggage trolleys within this airport (and Beijing) are also free - a courtesy appreciated by tired out travellers without local currency. A thought that occurs to me is the efficiency and courtesy in this airport compared to the disgracefully degraded facilities at airports such as Los Angeles with their incredibly rude and inefficient customs agents.

The US is squandering its wealth by dissaving and standing by as its infrastructure degrades. China has one of the highest savings rates in the world and is building a new society with high educational and cultural values. I am over-generalising but there seems to be some sort of lesson and sign for the future here.


Anonymous said...

Try not to generalize too much about China from Beijing. In addition, going to Peking university is a bit like going to Harvard in the US and then wondering if everything else works like that too (it doesn't).

Anonymous said...

The lesson is: planned economy.

Cryptandra said...

The aging population, transition to a more open society and rural poverty are key threats the authorties will have to deal with.

Anonymous said...

So I'll expect to see you (and your family on the back) on an electric pushbike soon?

Anonymous said...

And there's that delightful Edwin Maher on the news as well. Just like home, except the sweet and sour pork doesn't taste as good in China.

Steve said...

I would add to melaleuca's list the many millions of males who are soon to find it impossible to marry, because of the huge gender disparity that is an indirect consequence of the one child policy.

I also note that recently there have been reports of estimates that if China's growth slows to 8% it may be enough to cause social unrest. That does not inspire confidence.

There was a pessimistic article last year about China in the WSJ, and I think that the point it made about the new middle class not being as reformist minded as you might expect sounded convincing. The link: http://tinyurl.com/6r29at

Anonymous said...

Yes, China and the Chinese are impressive. But take the longer run view, and in that view demography is destiny.

They need to get rich before they get old.

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