07 October 2015 ~ 0 Comments

China – ‘Read the Trend Lines not the Headlines.’

“I am writing this post at 35,000 ft in the air whilst on SQ806 from Singapore to Beijing, reflecting on a week in which I travelled from China to Singapore to Bangalore and back. On the cover of the FT the headline talks of ‘dramatic falls’, there is a spat between N and S Korea, and the cyanide levels in the waters around Tianjin are at excessive levels. In response to Beijing being awarded the Winter Olympics of 2022 an FT article wrote of the woeful state of China’s ski resorts and the scarcity of water to make snow. On both legs of the trip to Singapore the Boeing 777-300A planes have been full to capacity in both economy and business class. The firing of some 4 shells by S. Korea in response to 3 mines laid by N. Korea has the counterpoint of the first ever rock concert in Pongyang to take place, performed by that well known Slovenian band Laibach, who played Beatles covers amongst other tunes. My upcoming entertainment will be taking my family of 4, including my 7 1/2 and 5 1/5 Chinglish girls, to Changbai Shan in Jilin province, north China, in December to go sledging and skiing; a Wanda owned resort which includes a Hyatt, Westin and Holiday Inn with Austrian ski lifts and a ZOO Cafe with tasty waffles and hot chocolate.

In China I operate 2 companies, EASTWEST Public Relations and Morgan Cars China; one is in the business of making the news, the other is an interesting barometer of the impact of news. I have travelled the region and had the chance to view China from the eyes of the western, Singapore and Indian media this week. It is curious combination of cynicism and awe.  The reality is that China, like India, is on a path of development that is unchartered; there has not been another nation of 1.4 bn people with a one party political system moving from one socio economic level to another in an age of digital communication and environmental constraints. If one were to believe the headlines, and not the trend lines, then China would not be a place to invest the time and resources into that I have, nor to commit to raising children here. Yet, the reality is that each country and society faces its own set of challenges and does so according to its own cultural and political DNA.

After 8 years in China, and 20 years in Asia, I would still not claim to understand nor to predict the decisions and paths chosen by the leaders and the people of China, but can only interpret events as they take place to develop my own theories. I read yesterday that the Mayor of Tianjin had come forward to accept "inescapable responsibility" for the blast in Tianjin which took place on August 12, 2015. In a city  of 15.2 million people and the 10th largest port in the world,  it is conceivable that Mr Huang Xingguo, mayor of Tianjin could have worked hard at the disaster recovery and left the investigators to identify some mid level scape goats, but he didn’t. That headline was at the back of the newspaper,  but for me was more important than the alarmist headlines about economic disintegration in China and the emerging markets.

The headlines attract readers and viewers, but there are not enough front pages to cover all the events which happen to 1.4bn people daily; so I prefer to look at the trend lines. In Singapore an asset manager and I had dinner this week, and he called these headline events a ‘blip’ on the long term progress chart of China. Next to me on flight 806 my travelling companion is a 4 1/2 year old girl who has been on vacation in Thailand with her family, and is currently engrossed in the brilliant British animation of ‘Shawn the Sheep.’ It reminds me that I am going to see my 2 girls in Beijing soon, and that the future of China will be governed by a cosmopolitan and worldly generation that will have common points of reference drawn from personal experience and not the headlines. That makes me feel pretty good about the prospects of a nation that whether one likes it or not, is destined to play a significant role on the world stage.

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