During my recent trip to China to attend a conference on air quality in Shanghai it became quite clear to me that, while the first phase of the recession has not yet come to a close in the UK, with possible further economic gloom still ahead, along its east coast China is still booming. That is not surprising given that China’s annual GDP growth rate stands at 6-8 per cent while our economy is undergoing potentially a 4 per cent contraction.
From what I saw during my brief stay there, street life in the evenings in Shanghai seemed very lively, and the confidence in evidence on the street was also expressed by the politicians l met on the trip. They pointed out how we had been forced to bail out our banks when they did not have to, despite years of western complaints about the lack of transparency in China’s banking system. This is a clear sign that the world is moving away from the Washington consensus to a new paradigm of development where state intervention is more acceptable.
But what does China’s boom mean for London? Clearly Shanghai is a serious challenger to our status as a global financial centre and will be even more so after the Shanghai Expo, which will take place between May and October 2010. Some 70 million people are expected to attend this event, which is being promoted around the theme of “Better City and Better Life”.
The sad thing is that the UK is not part of China’s boom nor are we likely to be, a reflection of the global shift in economic power from the West to the East (see Anthony Hilton’s recent article in the Evening Standard). We certainly need to be out there promoting ourselves during the Shanghai Expo at the very least. We also have to be prepared to learn from China, as l did on the environmental front from their use of electronic street signs to inform the public about levels of noise and air pollution. This is something l hope we can duplicate on the streets of London.