China’s phenomenal growth only means good things for Australia, writes Michael Clifton from Shanghai.
Such is the frenetic pace of life in China, that time for quiet reflection can be a rare indulgence. But as the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Shanghai approaches, it is time to draw breath and reflect on some of the more abiding impressions of almost 12 months at the helm of Austrade’s China network.
“Dislocation of expectation” is perhaps the phrase that best captures the China experience. A study of China and the Chinese language is a useful foundation, but leisurely academic pursuits have proved little more than a gentle buffer against a deluge of the unforeseen and the unexpected. Contemporary China is not the China I studied as a young Army officer back in 1985.
Observing China from abroad is no substitute for the lived experience. Modern hotels, high-speed trains, gleaming new airports, luxury brand malls and supermarkets catering for every taste – these are the powerful expressions of China’s inexorable rise.
Tokyo’s Ginza was once the international benchmark for cool chic and ostentatious wealth. But the baton has now passed to Shanghai’s West Nanjing Road and Beijing’s Wangfujing. Mao suits are out – Armani is in.
These impressions are of course superficial and we should not be blind to the darker side of the China story. The income gap between rich and poor remains stark – and it is growing. Life in China’s rural hinterland is tough and millions of migrant workers still eke out a meagre existence in cities across China. And rapid growth has extracted a terrible toll on China’s environment.
So where to next for China?
The boom-bust diversity of expert opinion on China’s outlook serves only to reinforce Carlyle’s observation that economics truly is the dismal science. I remain firmly convinced that a healthy confidence in China’s future is not a futile exercise in dewy-eyed optimism.
*Pictured: Shanghai’s West Nanjing Road where Mao suits are out and Armani is in. (Courtesy Austrade)
China’s rise is genuinely historic in scale and the economic development cycle still has a long way to run.
Consider the fact that China’s capital stock remains barely one tenth of that enjoyed by the United States. And consumer power is growing.
The luxury brand malls are no longer confined to the seaboard cities – they are found in hinterland cities like Chengdu, Nanchang, Hefei and many more. China’s Singles Day on November 11, 2012, saw Alibaba report online sales revenue exceeding US$3 billion – more than double 2011 spending figures by US consumers on the post-Thanksgiving Cyber Monday.
Aspiration is universal. My travels across many parts of China serve only to remind that the people of China are nothing, if not ambitious for the future – and for the future of their children. They aspire to a better quality of life in almost every way – financial security, healthcare, the opportunity to travel, better nutrition, a cleaner environment and a quality education.
Many are already realising their hopes and aspirations, and many more are jostling for their share of China’s growing wealth.
This is positive news for Australia and for Australian companies. ■
*Michael Clifton is Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner and Country Manager (China).
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