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by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado Asian countries are on the move, none more so than China. There is little doubt that China is on a fast track to catch—perhaps even surpass—the U.S. economy as the world’s largest. Its growth is phenomenal and although its export-driven economy is hurting because of the U.S. financial crisis, it is still growing. With exports sharply down, China is counting on increased domestic consumerism to take up the slack. With a population of 1.3 billion, there are certainly plenty of potential customers. Many of them, of course, live in poverty, especially in the agricultural western part of the country. Still, China has made great strides in urbanizing its population, lifting millions out of poverty in recent years. Foreign investment in China remains high because of a still robust growth rate, an abundance of cheap and productive labor, a government policy that encourages foreign investment, a climate conducive to business and a general sense of optimism about the country’s potential. In spite of record losses of over 70% in China’s stock markets this year, investors remain optimistic. Consumers, too. In fact, a Nielson survey of 52 countries found that Chinese consumers bucked the worldwide trend of falling consumer confidence in their economies. One reads about the Chinese economic miracle, but it must be seen to be fully appreciated. I had such an opportunity recently as part of a chamber of commerce tour of Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and the surrounding areas. For some reason, possibly having to do with the pollution, birds were a rarity in the cities but the construction crane is not among the endangered species. New construction is everywhere and sky scrapers stretch almost as far as the eye can see. The architecture is bold and innovative. Absent are the plain vanilla glass rectangles and in their place are varied, attractively designed towers that are pleasing to the eye and ablaze with illuminated designs at night. The Shanghai Bund, a waterfront park along the city’s financial district, presents the most spectacular skyline views I have ever seen. China’s ancient, storied treasures like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Ming Tombs, temples, shrines and parks are all sights to behold and we beheld them but there is much more in modern China to see. I was impressed with the infrastructure. The trains, planes, busses and other public transportation is clean, efficient and on time. The facilities and streets were clean, at least in the cities we visited. There are no gangs or street crime. We rode the MagLev bullet train from Shanghai to the airport that got us there in seven minutes at 240mph through a heavily populated area. It’s amazing what can be done when the government wants it done, when environmental impact studies are not a factor and nobody really gives a damn about snail darters, fairy shrimp or vernal pools. To be sure we saw only a part of this sprawling country, just slightly smaller in area than the U.S., and that part was in the urbanized east, not the impoverished agricultural west. Still, our access was not limited and we were free to wander, consistent with the tour timetable. China has immense challenges in trying to raise the living standards of the millions of people who still live in poverty but they are making tremendous strides. It keeps its population in check by imposing a strict one-child policy, although it now allows exceptions for parents who have no male sibling to perpetuate the family name. The communist government is intrusive and can be heavy-handed in suppressing dissent. Government authorities do not take criticism well, especially regarding human rights and territorial issues. Tibet and Taiwan are volatile subjects to be avoided in public conversation. There are lots of uniforms everywhere; green for military, blue for police and grey for security. But things are clearly changing in this dynamic and vibrant country. Entrepreneurship flourishes. Capitalism is taking hold. The government remains very much involved in the ownership of land and key businesses but the environment is business-friendly and foreign investors and tourists are courted. The objective of the trip was to showcase the country, promote tourism and investment interest in China and to get us to tell the folks back home that China has arrived and is ready to reclaim its place among the world’s great nations. There is much to showcase. Their people are optimistic and upbeat about the future and they are immensely proud of their country. China will soon surpass Germany as the world’s third largest economy. They will eventually displace Japan as the world’s second largest. But they are aiming for first place. They are imitating the best of our practices and then refining them. They work hard. Their kids study hard. They all learn English. They want to be scientists, engineers and mathematicians, not social workers or professional athletes. That sound you hear in the distance is the Chinese express and it’s gaining on us fast. CRO copyright 2008 J.F. Kelly, Jr. J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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