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Our correspondent in China: viewing the Middle Kingdom up close

Thursday, July 03, 2008
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Tutor2u have a correspondent in China (at least over a few days!) looking with interest at business and economic activity there.  Time has been short and impressions just that really – a few informed guesses about the direction in which this fascinating country is headed.

Everyone knows about the recent spectacular growth in the Chinese economy, which has had a knock on effect on us.  A frenzy of business activity has helped to drive up the price of many commodity items.  The recent inflation in China is also being exported to us in the form of higher prices for China’s goods.  Relatively cheap imported goods from China have had a significant impact on the UK economy over the last decade.  It has intensified competition and delivered a higher spending power and standard of living to UK consumers.

It’s obvious what we want from China, but what do they want of us?  My experience suggests that there are two things that we have to offer.  This blog is illustrated with a snapshot of a Tesco store in Ningbo, near Shanghai.  British firms have a vast amount of experience in retail, marketing, banking and other commercial services – an area in which China has far less skill.  Much is ‘Made in China’, but far less is ‘Made by China’.  Branding, design and marketing have a long way to go before they reach UK standards.  It’s not surprising to see Tesco make huge inroads into retailing.  I took the picture below in a smart shopping centre in Shanghai.  The pretty girls are posing with what were Rover cars – rebadged as a ‘new’ Chinese brand.


The long China boom is clearly nearing its peak.  Double digit rates of growth don’t last forever.  The boom has utterly transformed society in eastern, coastal China.  My experience of its booming cities and garment industry have reassured me (somewhat) on the ‘Primark issue’ about low priced clothing.  The alternative sources of employment I saw in rural, poor China must certainly be far worse than the opportunities to be had in manufacturing.  However, the social, political and environmental tensions must be enormous.

That leads to the second (and hugely encouraging) need that China has - and that the UK can help provide.  I have been a guest of the University of Nottingham, who have opened a campus in Ningbo.  China needs education and skills.  It needs an open, plural society supported by the rule of law.  Its people need rights and a voice to express their wants and needs.  There is a huge desire for change – and without it, the China boom will soon come to an end.  But there’s every reason to be optimistic that China can make the transformation – and that businesses both here and there will benefit enormously.


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