A world in transition – China and the Middle East


Fake Apple store, Bird Abroad
The words “Apple store” do not appear on the signs of real Apple stores

it is a dull day in the world, that is if you don’t live in Yemen, Syria, Libya or Southern Sudan – there is never a day dull when your life is on the line.  Here the hagglers are haggling, in Britain the hackers are being hacked.  But even the Murdoch story is “so yesterday’s news” that only the Guardian makes it “the” story still – and in the interests of fairness, it is the Guardian‘s story – without the unrelenting investigating and reporting by the paper, Murdoch and Brook would still be high-flying.  And I don’t know about you, but I cannot take the deficit wrangling seriously – it is simply political posturing, I would rather read about Greece and the Euro and that puts me to sleep.

However, I think there are two stories that will not disappear even on the days when they do not make any headlines: the ever-changing Middle East – the so-called Arab Spring and the ever-changing China.  China  is making its presence known in 2011 in a way it has not done before.  Both regions are in the process of a dramatic change – and those changes will change the face of the world over the next few years.  Since the mid-1950s, the Arab world has been stuck in the dictatorships that evolved from Arab nationalism and the end of European and Turkish colonization in the Middle East and Africa; the process started with the end of World War I and reached its climax in the years immediately following the Second World War.  From India to Morocco, new found freedoms and independence lead to national, secular and often socialist states.  Much of the Islamic fundamentalism and radical Islamic movements grew in reaction to what they saw as a loss of religious identity; Islam seemed to have been lost in the process of founding those national states.

Those old regimes lived and thought in the past and their message had long since ceased to resonate with the average citizen.  For the most part, the religious message that had gained traction by fighting against political ideologues and dictators, has also lost its appeal.  The people today are looking for a new government, one that reflects the world of 2011.  The movement promises to dramatically change the region, realign alliances both regionally and internationally.  It may take time, the ending of the colonial era and the transition to national states took over 50 years and had many false starts and changes in direction along the way.

China is probably a bigger, in fact, it is probably going to be the biggest story over the next 25 or even 50 years as we transition from a world dominated by American policy, the American dollar and the American consumer to a world dominated by Chinese and Indian policies, currencies and consumer behavior.  China did not get totally bogged down in the founding ideology – although at times it seemed to be – it has been slowly changing, evolving from Mao’s China into something very, very different.

In my mind that means we can never, never take our eyes off China – not because we can change its course or the outcome – but because we will need to understand it and be able to adjust.  As an aside, the News of the World once had a Harry Potter reporter, he was required to dress in robes and gryffindor colors at all times in the office; we need a Chinese reporter in the room, in costume and in character every day to remind us and the reporter of the importance of the role.

In the meantime we have to use the press that exists; today from the Chinese People’s Daily, the China Global Times and the BBC News, there are a couple of stories worthy of note.  Did you know, for example that as of this week 485 million Chinese are online, a number that is likely to approach a billion within 10 years?  China now has 6000 miles of high-speed rail and intends to double that number within 10 years – the Chinese think it will not only speed up travel (including for the army, this week a military exercise used the high-speed trains to practice transporting troops from one region to another), but it will also help develop new urban economic centers outside of the major cities and thereby relief the population related pressures on those cities.

China is testing a “fourth generation” nuclear reactor, one that recycles uranium; it is safer and more efficient, but just as importantly, it will radically reduce the cost of mining uranium and producing power.  A manned scientific submersible vehicle is being test that will help explore the ocean floor and of course find to sources of all manner of things, including food; at the moment it is almost capable of descending to a depth of two miles (today it reached 3700 meters), but that is expected to be extended to over three miles.  And this from the BBC, an American tourist while wandering around China,  came upon an Apple Store (actually 3 were found) – the problem is – Apple has no Apple store in those locations; the only official Apple stores in China are in Beijing and Shanghai.  The employees when quizzed apparently believed they worked for Apple.   Every corporation will in time have to go to China and if they don’t, well some one will bring them anyway; 1.3 billion consumers are too many to ignore.

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