A dear friend of mine is convinced we will witness another world-war in his lifetime. He believes this conflict will be fought between East and West, more specifically, a modern-day crusade conducted over religious dogma. I’m not sure about this but am adamant it will take something far closer to our materialistic heart, to encourage us to rise up en-masse: shopping (aka commercial globalisation). And in this the West has only one true combatant, China. Shop shop!
Undoubtedly, there has been a tangible shift in the economic & political powerbase from West to East, exacerbated, accelerated even, by the financial crisis of 2008. It is only a short matter of time before China will become the dominant global force. The Chinese can be a polarising nation, one with an unnerving sense of their own destiny, and at times, a somewhat arrogant and all-pervasive superiority complex. For a generation or two, they have engaged with the outside world, but with extreme caution and tentative reserve, dutifully adhering to the ancient proverb “Confucius, he say hide your strength and bide your time”. Or words to that effect.
But this is set to change and China’s recent trend of reactivating dormant disputes and arguments with the likes of Japan, Taiwan & Tibet are clearly bearing testament to their future intent. And now, in the blue corner, ever-tweeting president elect Trump seems as keen as a keen thing to get involved.
No US president has spoken to, or even acknowledged, his Taiwanese counterpart for almost forty years for fear of upsetting the Beijing apple-cart, so was it a bit of a boo-boo that Donald accepted a ‘congratulatory call’ from Taiwan’s leader? Nah, of course not. Trump has oft said he wants to take a tough stance with China and signing-off his subsequent inflammatory 140 characters thereafter with “I don’t think so!” makes this all the more clear. I’m all for negotiating hard, playing to your own strengths and not those of your adversary, but a deep breath and a smidgen of humility won’t go amiss here. Furthermore, thinking that Mr Putin’s got his back is a serious misapprehension on his part. Yes, Russia is all for flexing its muscles in the Ukraine and Syria but the bear isn’t what it once was. Its national output ranks it globally as #13 alongside Mexico and its economy is shrinking to such an extent that its current forays will only damage it further.
But everything is also far from rosy in China’s geo-political walled garden and we’re all at considerable risk when, and it is when not if, the bubble bursts. Having not apparently learned a great deal from our own recent experiences, the ratio of China’s debt-to-GDP currently stands at a barely believable 260%, and those doing the lending are a motley crew of trusts, finance companies and unregulated organisations. Think massive loan sharks and Wonga on government steroids and you won’t go far wrong. Ironically, I watched the prescient ‘The Big Short’ again this week and it still gives me nightmares.
Mind, the real indicator of China’s growing importance was surely evidenced just t’other day when Mark Zuckerberg, side-stepping his usual ‘grey t-shirt/decision fatigue’ argument, was actually seen wearing a suit & tie! In a blatant charm offensive to get China on-side and remove its seven year ban on the site, Facebook are in deep conversation developing a range of country-specific censorship tools. Rumour has it, Mr Z’s even gone as far as offering President Xi Jinping the opportunity of naming his unborn daughter. However, I suspect the returned christening present would be little more than a paper tiger.