Want a revolution? See China

Cutting-edge Chinese art at Beijing’s 398 District. Photo by Ian Meikle

Cutting-edge Chinese art at Beijing’s 398 District. Photo by Ian Meikle

Europe is crumbling, America is racing to the political extremes and Russia is run by gangsters, but China is rising like a phoenix, writes ROBERT MACKLIN

IT’S the greatest peacetime revolution the world has ever known. And until you actually see it first hand, it’s impossible to appreciate its magnitude.

I urge every Canberran – every Australian – to do so as soon as possible. The experience will change your perception of the world and our economic future.

I speak, of course, of the transformation of China and for the last two weeks I’ve travelled in three of its southern provinces. Two
of them – Guangxi and Guizhou – are among the least developed. The third, Guangdong, contains one of the industrial powerhouse cities, Guangzhou (formerly Canton) where this year a single manufacturing complex will produce two billion mobile phones. That’s one each for a quarter of the entire world’s population. And that’s just for starters.

It was my seventh visit to China in the last decade. The others were mostly to the major cities and the tourist attractions of the north. Each time I’d noted big changes, but nothing like this.

The German and Japanese “economic miracles” are almost laughable by comparison with what’s happening within our northern neighbour.
In one day, for example, I travelled along a new super highway for about four hours. It had been tunnelled through an entire mountain range; in the valleys between the peaks its pylons stood up to 200 metres tall; the tunnels – more than 80 of them – varied in length up to seven kilometres. And the project – the size of four Snowy Mountain Schemes – was completed in only three years. But here’s the truly astonishing thing: the tunnels travelled only one way – a second parallel set took the traffic in the opposite direction.

Cities the size of Sydney have arisen virtually overnight. Office and accommodation construction is everywhere. And the air of prosperity (like the atmosphere) is palpable, at least in the cities. The people – especially the women – are smartly dressed and increasingly confident and both sexes are unerringly friendly, especially to Australian visitors. And it’s cheap as chips. We stayed in four-star hotels for a fortnight, ate fine Chinese food and enjoyed guided bus and boat travel, bought presents for the family and all for less than $4000 including the return flights from Canberra.

However, the real impact on our lives will be in the new balance of power in the world. China still has hundreds of millions of its own people to raise from grinding poverty to a decent standard of living; that will ensure its continued powerful growth, which will sustain our prosperity, especially in the service industries and mining. And already they are outsourcing to Africa, raising living standards with employment in place of the west’s condescending aid budgets that merely maintained the status quo.

Meanwhile, Europe is crumbling, America is racing to the political extremes and Russia is run by gangsters. So Prime Minister Gillard’s decision to appoint Ken Henry to devise our plan for an Asian century could hardly have come at a better time.

Footnote: Many thanks to all those many readers who responded with suggestions to combat tinnitus. I’ll give acupuncture a go and report back.

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