The World's Their Oyster

Article excerpt

Byline: Rana Foroohar

Young Chinese see only opportunity.

On a recent trip to China, I met with a group of students at Beijing's Tsinghua University--the Harvard of the Middle Kingdom. These young people were among the best and brightest that their country produces, which, considering the diligence of Chinese students, says a lot. I asked one physics genius in a fuzzy pink sweater what her plans were after graduation. She had already lined up a scholarship to pursue an M.B.A. at Stanford. After that, she said, "I'll probably stay in the U.S. for a while and work at McKinsey or a venture-capital firm in Silicon Valley." Then, she continued, "I'll come back to China and start a company. After I make my money, I will retire and move to Europe, where I'll take my parents traveling."

Well, that about covers it. Her life plan says a lot about the priorities of the Chinese elite (get a prestigious education, make gobs of money, take care of Mom and Dad), but just as much about the seismic shifts of wealth and power happening in the world right now. While the West, and the U.S. in particular, would once have been the ultimate destination for the world's most upwardly mobile, this global elite now views America as a pit stop--a place to get a degree and add some brand value to the resume before the real business of work and wealth creation begins.

To these folks, the emerging markets are clearly a better place to become rich and famous--they are where nearly all the world's growth will take place in the next few decades. What's perhaps most interesting about this young student's world view is that Europe has become a complete also-ran--a kind of posh retirement community where you might enjoy high culture and beautiful scenery but not much else.

I was reminded of all this by several news events last week. During the EU-China summit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured European leaders that the Chinese would still buy their currency and that Beijing supported "a stable euro." These are the sorts of ever so slightly superior proclamations that once would have been issued by Western governments to emerging-market subordinates. His statements came just after it emerged that China and Turkey had conducted war games together (another example of a new and much more multilateral world order), and only a week after the latest Merrill Lynch-Capgemini global-wealth report found that for the first time ever, Asia (led by China) had surpassed Europe in terms of the number of wealthy citizens. …