From the Editor
Fast Forward China
“Crouching tiger hidden dragon” is an old Chinese proverb aptly describing
the awe and fear that China inspires in the world at large.
They call it the “China syndrome”: the double-figure annual economical growth
sustained over the past two decades that’s about to launch the nation as a
But this has come at a price.
China’s carbon emissions jumped 33 percent between 1992 and
2002 to become the world’s No. 2 emitter after the US. Some 20 percent of
the population live in “severely polluted” areas, and 70 percent of the country’s
rivers and lakes are in dire shape.
The economic growth has
been fuelled by a rapid expansion of its industrial base, creating a corresponding
surge in demand on the world’s falling oil and gas supplies. Oil price hit
US$70 a barrel at the end of August 2005. In 2004, when global energy consumption
rose by 4.3 percent - the highest in two decades - China’s consumption
shot up by 15 percent.
for resources and goods
China is the most populous nation in the world at more
than 1.3 billion and still expanding at 0.6 percent per annum, despite the
official one-child family policy. As the country grows in wealth, so too,
its draw on the world’s grains, meat and luxury goods such as motor vehicles.
And it is capable of buying a lot.
Gross Domestic Product more than quadrupled from 1984 to 2004 to put it No.
4 in the world after US, Japan and Germany; but its Purchasing
Power Parity (PPP) at 8.6 trillion international dollars is a close second
to US’s 12.4 trillion. PPP takes into account differences in the relative
prices of goods and services, and provides a better measure of a country’s
real output and buying power.
China’s total grain consumption
in the fiscal year 2005-2006 was projected to hit a record high of 500 million
tonnes with imports at 5.1 percent of total, i.e., more than 25 million tonnes.
If per-capita grain consumption were to double to European levels, China
would require nearly 40 percent of today’s global grain harvest.
Worldwatch Institute commented in its State of the World 2006 report: “Rising demand
for energy, food and raw materials by 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians is already
having ripple effects worldwide. Meanwhile, record-shattering consumption
levels in the US and Europe leave little room for this projected Asian growth.”
The resulting squeeze on
global resources is taking its toll: riots over rising oil prices in Indonesia,
escalating pressure on Brazil’s forests and fisheries and loss of manufacturing
jobs in Central America.
development with circular eco-economy
Statistics don’t tell the whole story. We
visited China this summer in connection with our Dream
Farm 2 project (Dream
Farm 2 - Story So Far, SiS
31). Driving from
the airport into the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province felt like anywhere
in Europe on a good day. The motorways are well built and meticulously manicured:
landscaping on both sides and down the middle divide. Momentarily as we were
approaching the city of Yantai in Shandong Province a week later, it felt
like Italy. Yantai’s mayor has decreed for aesthetic reasons that all the
houses must have slanting roofs covered
with red tiles.
There have been massive
investments in infrastructure.
People simply took it for granted that things like the power supply and the
transport system would work, which they did. The main city boulevards
have been elaborately face-lifted; though old, dilapidated enclaves remain,
some scarcely hidden behind the big billboards. In Guangzhou, we managed to
visit the site of Mae-Wan’s family home, which used to occupy what is now
a block of disintegrating multi-storey flats with the big Chinese ideogram
“demolish” written on the walls.
Good food is cheap, abundant,
diverse and exquisitely prepared, and wine flows freely. Chinese hosts are
hospitable to a fault. There is no sign that people will ever give up their
rich and varied cuisine for the European beef-dominated fare. On more than
one occasion, our hosts regaled us with stories of being always hungry as
children as recently as the 1960s, and constantly dreaming up more cunning
ploys to steal food from the family ration only to be foiled by their clever
mother or the family dog; obviously
confident that those days are gone for good.
leaders and opinion formers are well aware that the dominant economical model of infinite growth is unsustainable. “Circular”
and “eco-economy” are in mainstream discourse, and it is not just talk. Eco-city
and socialist village projects abound. China accounts for 80
percent of the world’s thermal photovoltaic market and 65 million square metres
of solar panels have been installed on rooftops. The central government is
actively promoting and supporting widespread use of biogas digesters to address
environmental pollution and energy shortage.
There’s a general air of contentment and good humour
amid much open criticism of inept or corrupt government officials at the provincial
or more local levels. China could well leapfrog the West in
sustainable development. And there are other factors in its favour.
Thomas Friedman, author of The World
is Flat, warns that economic globalisation and the internet doesn’t
just mean that cheap, unskilled labour is outsourced to the developing world,
but also that the countries with the best educated and smartest people are
going to take the highest paying jobs as well.
Some 60 percent of China’s
university students graduate with degrees in science and engineering compared
to 31 percent in the United States. Chinese high school kids have been winning
the international Mathematics Olympiad for most of the past ten years.
The public park along the coast of Yantai
is a favourite hangout for the inhabitants and Chinese tourists: indulgent
young parents with their precious single child strolling along the concrete
paths, beach-bagging on the pebbled shore, or flying kites. But you have to
watch out not to be run over by the blade roller-skaters. The Chinese appear
to have taken to the sport with consummate passion, and the city has built
a full-size racecourse in the park.
On our last evening in China, we came upon groups
of skaters in full regalia rehearsing on the racecourse. We strained our eyes
to infants that must have barely learned to walk. They kept whizzing by in
a blaze of colours, their unsmiling faces seriously set as though impatient
for the future that belongs to them.