The Price of Economic Miracles

Posted on: 06/04/2011

This week our very own Grumpy Granny shares her musings on a recent visit to China...


I am a very lucky lady.

An old friend (most of mine are rather old!), invited me to Beijing.

It is a long way to go; but then he is a VERY old friend.

Arriving at the airport was amazing in itself: absolutely huge, with more still to come. I would guess it is the largest airport in the world in terms of ground area - but then China is a record-breaker in almost every respect.

The World largest population; the Worlds fastest growing economy; more of almost everything than anywhere else.

I was staying at my friends house in Beijing, a very large and expensive property and just one of many that has sprung up since the Chinese economic miracle got underway more than a decade ago.

Not that you actually own a property in China. Everyone, local and foreigner alike, gets a 70 year lease. After that, who knows? The State owns all the land. Everyone else simply has a leasehold.

If I hadn't been staying with my friend, I would not have been short of a place to stay. There are already far too many hotels to count ( four Crown Plazas alone) and more under construction. In fact, Beijing can be viewed as one big construction site, courtesy of the economic miracle.

Of course, miracles don't come cheap. I was glad of my friends hospitality, because my little job plus pension would have been a bit stretched by the room rates of the best hotels. To call prices "Western" would be an understatement. They are at the level only an oriental prince of old could afford.

Staying with someone in China isn't as simple as it sounds. Everyone must report "extra" people staying with them to the local police. The State wants to know everything, down to when you have a friend to stay.

Not that your friend could come from very far if they were Chinese. In China, you are expected to stay put unless there is a very special reason for you to go elsewhere. You can't just move from city to city as a matter of choice-you must have a Government permit to do so.

Having said that, most Chinese wouldn't have the money to travel anyway. There are very few Middle Class people in China. The vast majority of people are still very poor; there are also a number of Billionaires. In between? Nothing much, and certainly no ladder for most to climb.

China is of course a one-party state.This brings both disadvantages and advantages.

The country is now into its 13th " Five Year Plan" and the Government/Party can certainly make sure the plan gets done. There is a clear road ahead, with nothing and no one allowed to divert the State juggernaut.

Verdict on China? A Scottish one. NOT PROVEN.

Many In China are better off than ever before. Many are also growing with their country, including through education.

On the other hand, freedom of speech and quality of healthcare are both areas for concern. In both categories China ranks amongst the bottom 5 % of the
world's nations.

I enjoyed my time in and around Beijing. A safe, clean town, steeped in history, yet moving at an incredible pace towards the 22nd Century.

And is a major concern that a country so prominent on the world stage needs so many police (plainclothes and otherwise) to ensure stability.

There has to be a fear that if the lid every comes off the pot, the outcome could be very traumatic -and not just for the Chinese people themselves.

The Chinese property boom has undertones of the Irish economic bubble ( the "Miracle" as was) and we all know where that path led.

Tellingly, most Chinese billionaires have dual citizenship. They clearly have no plans to hang around if the pot boils over.

On balance, I was happy to return to austere London. Miracles are just too expensive for an old granny who likes to speak her mind.

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