China is like a large building site. Well in truth, China is a large building site. Any visit to a Chinese city (and sometimes not even a city) there is evidence of building activity. From my hotel window in Guangzhou I counted 38 cranes and a building that was still having its foundations dug when I was last here, is now up to its 40th floor level. I was last here 5 months ago. China is the place to be and most certainly China will dominate the future global landscape.
On Wednesday 10th July high level economic talks get underway between China and the USA concerning how best to further trade, work together on the global economic stage and, in the words of the Chinese vice-Premier (who is leading the Chinese delegation) “deepen the trust” between the two economic giants. Premier Xi Jinping has made it clear that his administration plans to tackle graft and corruption and front page headlines in the ChinaDaily is of high-level officials, including former railways minister, Liu Zhijun, being charged for corruption and abuse of power. You know it is serious as in the case of Zhijun, the death penalty, with a two-year reprieve, has been handed out.
China has some basic economic shifts to make and challenges to meet if it is to realize the bright future that awaits. China needs to build its own internal consumer base and move away from manufacturing and exports to service industries. This is a shift fundamental to most emerging economies and not altogether unusual for the growth stage in which the Chinese economy finds itself.
The rate of urbanisation also poses some socio-economic challenges for China. In 2008 critical mass was reached when 50% of the 1.3billion Chinese lived in cities. This reflects a global trend and certainly the mega-cities that will dominate the future will have a massive impact on infrastructure including consumer needs and habits, local and national politics, budgets, health, transport, resources and pretty much any area you choose to think about. In revealing what the future holds given the shift towards urbanisation, China will show the way.
China will have to deal with several challenges along this way. Several of these are already well known: corruption (as mentioned), infringing on intellectual property rights (and not only infringing, often simply totally ignoring), computer fraud and hacking – although they are not alone in this challenge, as the USA will attest too! Given how China has tackled many of its other challenges there is cause for optimism that they will succeed in making inroads to those listed.
I am grateful for a career that repeatedly brings me to this part of the world. There is so much to take-in, to learn, to observe and to experience. It is not always comfortable learning but it is essential learning. If you are serious about the future and haven’t been to China I only have one question for you: why not? I am amazed when I read of leadership gurus and authors who articulately spout about the future and yet who have no experiential understanding of China. It simply doesn’t make sense to me and dents their credibility. I have also come to realise that the more you come to this place (maybe any place?), the more you realise just how little you really know. I think that is the way it should be for I have an inbuilt wariness when it comes to ‘experts’.
So, if you are in leadership, in any field, get China on your radar. Read, explore, be curious, ask, talk to, learn and if you have children, intentionally grow their awareness for the place we know as China. They will thank you one day for your foresight.