Magazine article Behind the Headlines

China in the Age of Globalization, or Globalization in the Age of China? Vancouver, September 11, 2006

Magazine article Behind the Headlines

China in the Age of Globalization, or Globalization in the Age of China? Vancouver, September 11, 2006

Article excerpt

It is entirely fitting that I am discussing China here in Vancouver. This city, in a province with a population that is ten percent ethnic Chinese, is really where China and North America meet. I have no doubt that many in this room have been to China and that many speak Chinese. I see many raised hands--many more than I usually see when I talk about China.

The changes underway in China affect us wherever we are. They affect us as citizens, as workers, as managers of businesses, as politicians. I do not have deep expertise on the history of China or the intricacies of its politics, but I have observed as closely as I can the recent changes and their impact on us.

When I started to write about China I found it difficult at first to get in touch with people having a connection with what was happening there. My mother gave me good advice: "Have you talked to the Cedars who live down the street? They have business in China," or "have you talked to this family or that family?" I was soon in touch with many people having business or other Chinese connections. These conversations showed me just how great is the diversity of our interactions with China, and how important are the personal relationships on which they are based.

I was also reminded of something about Canada that I had known for a long time. When I lived in Indonesia many of my friends were Canadian, and when I started my research on China I discovered a disproportionate number of Canadians involved in China. Canada has, for longer than the United States, been committed to open and friendly relationships with Asian countries, and you continue to encourage these connections. Your immigration arrangements have encouraged an impressive number of Asian entrepreneurs to come to Canada. In the United States these days we are deeply in the shadow of September 11, 2001 and our focus is concentrated on threats instead of promises. In Canada you focus on the promise, and the promise is delivering.

On September 11, I got a call from Texas telling me that my sister, who worked in lower Manhattan across from the World Trade Center, was all right. I wondered why the call came from Texas. Nearly all the phone systems in New York were out. When she ran into Battery Park she saw a woman on her cell phone and asked who she was talking to. The reply was that she was talking to her husband in Texas. My sister asked "Would you please tell your husband to call my parents and my family and tell them that I'm OK?" There is a message in this story about the world we now live in. We are comfortable with the idea that we are interconnected in ways that are instantaneous and close.

Perhaps we are not conscious enough of the depth and intricacy of the economic connections among countries and economies, and of the ways in which our comfort in them may be disrupted. Here in Vancouver you have many business people, known I believe as the astronauts, who travel back and forth regularly to China. For them the relationships across the Pacific are extremely close, but they will be well aware that relationships between countries or peoples can become complicated and that the repercussions of problems can be very wide indeed. We must remember this about China, where change is happening very rapidly and there is potential for problems. It is true that although people have been predicting horrific things for China for the last 12 or 15 years, we have seen record growth each year. The lesson is to be cautious, but to be cautiously optimistic.

The Chinese story is one of extraordinary economic development. Economic development requires resources of one kind or another. The modern history of British Columbia began with foreigners coming to settle a new land, to find and exploit its natural resources and to make their fortunes. In China Inc, I describe a different kind of resource--the people of China. For China, labour is the critical natural resource. …

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