Connect to share and comment
China keeps Asian economies moving, but at what cost to the US?
LONDON, United Kingdom — If you want to get away from the mounting feeling of dread in the U.S. and Europe, the sensation that maybe this economic downturn is not quite over and that Barack Obama may not have quite sharp enough elbows to make a success of his job, if you want to get a fresh perspective on things, then you need to go to the far side of the world — just make sure someone else is paying for it.
I've just come back from the far side, Australia to be precise. (Someone else was paying.) Now that the jet lag has cleared away, I am thinking through what I saw, and just as important, didn't see. What I saw in Australia was a country that has weathered the global downturn pretty well. I experienced a couple of weeks of work in which I didn't encounter massive existential despair about the state of the world, in which reports of body counts and corruption in war zones, hypocrisy and corruption in government didn't dominate discussion. (Actually there is plenty of hypocrisy/corruption in Australian politics but there are five major sports seasons in full swing so newspapers tend to be dominated by ball coverage.)
This happy view wasn't just true in Australia. I spent a bit of time in Singapore, visited the docks and spent time watching the armada of cargo ships riding at anchor, waiting to be loaded or off-loaded. Wealth and industry and the lack of introspection that I now recognize as a symptom of economic/existential malaise defined the city.
The reason for this can be summed up in one word: China.
Statistics tell one part of the story. Australian exports to China grew 45 percent year on year in 2009. That's 45 percent growth in the midst of the worst global economic crisis since the ... Well, you know how to finish that sentence. Australian imports grew as well but not by anywhere near as much — so a trade surplus. Do you know comparable figures for U.S.-China trade? Don't ask. China is now Australia's largest trading partner.
But the ground truth is even more telling. On Australia's east coast, Sydney and Brisbane seem to be one massive English language training center for the new Chinese middle classes. Over on the other side of the continent nation, Perth is enjoying the best of boom times as the gold and other natural resources like iron ore scooped out of Western Australia's mines finds its way to the People's Republic.
Enjoying the sun and the very real good feeling behind the Australian catchphrase, "No worries, mate," I began to think about the huge difference in social outlook between their side of the world and the one where I live. Why isn't everyone out here as concerned about terrorism and economic catastrophe and the pressure that fear is putting on the political system in America and Europe?