It used to be said that when the American economy sneezed, Europe caught a cold. Plainly that is now an out of date notion, and today we must all take note of the news that the Chinese economy has slowed to its lowest growth rate for six years.
The signal was there for us to see earlier in the year, when there was considerable volatility on the Shanghai stock exchange: even if Chinese growth figures look healthy by old world standards, they are plainly heading into worrying times and this will effect us all.
More topically, if the price of keeping their economy moving is the dumping of commodities onto the world market, then that is what a command economy does. The notion of workers fraternal links across the world plainly do not extend to Redcar no matter how some of our quainter politicians may envision the world.
China is now the workshop of the world. We all need it to prosper, not least because it, in its turn, is an increasingly important destination for British exports. Europe is still in the economic doldrums and whilst America is doing slightly better than it was, the uncertainty of the US electoral cycle will soon be upon us. Regardless of which decision the UK makes in the oncoming EU referendum, China’s health remains a matter of concern to us all.
As he pondered the problem Brother Ivo called to mind a passage in “Deciion Points” the book written shortly after leaving office by President George W Bush. It is a far more interesting and enlightening book than many of his detractors would predict.
In it, he writes that all world leaders need to get to know each other a little before they settle down to serious business. They need ” ice breaker ” questions.
Brother Ivo hears that when meeting her subjects, the Queen’s opening gambit ( for, by tradition she must speak first) is ” Have you come far?” Whilst that may be an warm and appropriate question for such meetings: it might, however seem a little worrying to the visitor if he happened to be the President of China!
President Bush’s question of choice was a little more searching. “What problem keeps you awake at night?”
The answer he recieved from the then Chinese President was both precise and startling in its implication.
” How do I create 22 million jobs every year?”
That figure is approximately the current stubbornly fixed unemployment statistic for the entire EU. We cannot shift it into downward motion over decades, yet our Chinese friends must achieve that every year. Success ensures political peace; failure would risk social unrest and inevitable repression, which we know the Chinese Communist party is capable of, but modestly to its credit, it does not seem enthusiastically to wish to deploy.
Given the pragmatic choice of repressive ideologogical purity, or the embracing of free trade and a large slice of capitalism, the People’s Congress did make the right decision in their people’s interests and both by their hard work and example, that compromise has been responsible for lifting more people out of absolute poverty in the world than almost any other in modern times.
During this same period of economic growth, there has been a degree of lifting of party suspicions in religious matters, so that Christianity is becoming increasingly trusted by China’s leaders as a benign influence which will not destabilise the country, as it pursues its secular economic priorities. That too can be cautiously welcomed.
It is not only their own people who have benefitted. Not only are the UK poor advantaged by low priced good quality manufactured goods, but other countries have seen what works in the real world, and are following the example.
It began with a willingness to compromise.
In the more comfortable West, political compromise has become a dirty word, not least on each extreme of the political spectrum. Perhaps we have the luxury of getting it wrong. It is still possible in the UK to be a welfare claimant and still be within the statistical “richest 5% ” in the world. China has no such cushioning. Absolute grinding poverty is remembered and feared; so is its ideological cause. The Party knows that it’s interests are best served by continuing to deliver the goods. If that hurst a trivial number of workers in Redcar (by their standards) then sobeit.
Reflecting upon the problems of managing a behemoth economy for a population three times larger than that of the USA, it probably makes sense to tone down the moralising rhetoric. Of course, we wish China was more democratic, more attuned to western notions of human rights and ecological concern.
Yet the imperative for those jobs to be created this year, next year, and every year into the foreseeable future, ought perhaps to be calming influence on our more confrontational instincts. We in Europe have been unable to close that 22million employment gap once; the Chinese Premier, whom the Prime Minister will be in discussion with this week, needs to do this every year.
Asked whether he expected to be challenged about human rights by Jeremy Corbyn, as some have speculated, the Chinese Premier remarked that the Britsh are a polite people who know how to act properly towards guests. If Mr Corbyn decides to not to press matters too quickly Brother Ivo will not blame him.
He hopes they have an interesting conversation. Perhap’s someone in the Chinese delegation will ask him what future challenges might keep him awake at night. It would be fascinating to hear the answer.