On the 22nd of January 2013, the Commonwealth Journalists Association hosted a seminar held at Senate House, University of London on the issue of ‘China 2013 – what next?’
The Seminar, which was held in partnership with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, was both topical and enormously engaging, and well received by the hundreds of specially invited guests in the audience.
Humphrey Hawksley, the well known BBC foreign correspondent, author, and commentator on world affairs, chaired the seminar. On the discussion panel were Jonathan Fenby (respected writer and China expert), Carrie Gracie (BBC China correspondent), Rana Mitter (Professor of History and Politics of Modern China, Oxford University), Stephen Chan (Professor of International Relations, SOAS, University of London), and George Magnus (Senior Economic Adviser, and author of ‘Uprising: Will Emerging Markets Shape or Shake the World’s Economy?’)
Deriving from their years of China experience, the five China experts shared their rich viewpoints on where China is going to be in 2013. Some of the key highlights of the evening included as follows:
Senior Economic Advisor at UBS Investment Bank and highly sought after global economist, George Magnus outlined the dual challenges of China’s demographic and economic hurdles ahead. He specifically pointed out that, on the demographic side, China’s ageing population, these included a weaker savings base and older working population and, on the economic side, newer developments had to be found as the country has saturated the gains made from economic development areas of the past in areas such as construction and industry. He said that the Chinese economy is particularly important now as it has reached the end of extrapolation.
He said China faces issues of discontinuity, making it hard to predict its growth into the future in a linear fashion. The GDP rate, which hovered around 10% through the 2000s was now dropping to about 5%. His main point was that China has worked hard in the first 30 years of reforms to match up with, and exceed, the economy of most countries, and now the challenge was on how to continue that growth while maintaining impeccable house-keeping issues within the country. Mr. Magnus pointed out that a new model needed to be invented in China to keep the country’s growth on track, maintain workable and sustainable relations with neighbours and maintaining internal stability.
Carrie Gracie spoke about the role of Media in China and what 2013 looked like from the point of view of journalists. She said the communist party views media as an extremely potent tool and considers party strengthening to be the media’s role. Describing the transition period in China from the old administration to the new as tense and ‘febrile’ she emphasized the need to appreciate what direction the people were trying to push the country in. Ms. Gracie specifically highlighted the immense growth of China’s Twitter –Weibo – and other social media platforms had also empowered others outside the media, including businessmen, and how that is having an influence on the changes that are happening within the country’s social, cultural, and economic side.
Ms. Gracie also pointed out how she has noticed changes that are happening in the rural areas of the country. A clear example of this has been illustrated by her annual visits to a village almost every year and meeting a local family, and seeing how that family and the people of that village have adapted to the changes around them in the decades that have gone past.
Interesting contributions came from the highly respected British-Indian academic Rana Mitter, who spoke about China and her neighbors. Professor Mitter, who is the most senior British professor of Indian origin to have a strong expertise on China, was quick to spell out any indifference between China and her neighbors and stated that China was a very long way from the situation 70 years ago when East Asia erupted.
In regards to India, Professor Mitter said it was not important to see who would win the race between the two countries for growth and power, but that China was way ahead of India as was reflected in GDP numbers, (China’s USD 8400 per capita to India’s USD 3500).
When I asked him a question about what his thoughts were on the India-China economic race, Professor Mitter pointed out that during his recent visit to New Delhi he personally observed and experienced many differences between the two nations. He felt there was no particular race between India and China in any capacity (infrastructure being one of them was behind in India compared to China).
Professor Stephen Chan, who has decades of experience on the African continent, and has seen tremendous change on the continent especially in the past decade. If there is one particular experienced British man who knows the African continent through the Chinese eyes, then it has to be Professor Chan. He noted that with all due respect that the Chinese have been trading with Africa since times in memorial, and likewise Africans have been trading with China for centuries.
A clear example was provided of the Chinese city of Guangzhou, which is the main trading hub for China-Africa (Guangzhou has the largest African population in China), and also African countries such as Angola, Algeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya that have large number of Chinese people. Though he wasn’t so sure as to why there are not many Chinese people in Mali.
Professor Chan also pointed out that “The Chinese don’t know what they’re doing in Africa,” he told the discussion outlining the lack of solid reporting to Beijing from Africa. He added that Africa also had problems negotiating with the Chinese. Professor Chan spoke on China’s strategy and experience in Africa.
As part of the closing remarks to summarise the discussion, one of the key points were made by Jonathan Fenby, who is one of the most respected and experienced experts on China, when he pointed out that China is a ‘normal country that is behaving normally economically’ in respects to the world’s presence. Mr. Fenby said that China is not going to ‘overtake the world’s economy, and nor is China going to be an influence on the global culture'. It’s a country that is behaving normally and on the right track of growth where it should be. Mr. Fenby also pointed out that one of the reasons why we are seeing such a rapid growth is because of the country’s practical and population size, which is an advantage for it to make full use of its resources.
Following the discussion, there were a series of contributions from the floor including questions and comments from Chinese journalists based in the UK, Chinese students and Chinese Diaspora, and other experts and specialists who follow China’s developments (or those involved with China). It was fascinating and a privilege to listen to the insights provided by these top five China experts and I am sure it would be equally interesting to see where the world, and indeed China, will take us, going into the next decade.
International markets are developing rapidly and changing substantially. Newly emerging markets continue to grow, despite the pressures on the global economy. Markets such as China, India, Russia, South Africa and South America are set to continue double-digit growth, and are looking to up-skill, including through formal global exchange programmes, as they seek to increase productivity and quality.
A full transcript of the talk can be read at http: //www.cja-uk.org/2013/02/2317/
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