Two major new developments between China and Canada/North America took on new meanings for me after a recent trip to China to introduce my new Chinese-Canadian grandson to his Chinese relatives.
My trip was much enriched by a simultaneous reading of Martin Jacques’ political page-turner: When China Rules the World. As The Economist reviewer commented on Jacques’ insights, “The West hopes that wealth, globalization and political integration will turn China into a gentle giant … Time will not make China more Western; it will make the West, and the world, more Chinese.”
That was illustrated to me by the recent signing of the U.S.-China climate change agreement and by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s signing a deal to set up a Chinese currency-trading hub in Toronto. Harper’s approach to China itself is indicative of the West becoming more Chinese. Gone are his earlier principled objections to human rights violations, a reflection of western Christian democracies’ legal rights and constitution-based approach to politics.
Jacques repeatedly describes Chinese rulers as “flexible and pragmatic” in their unprecedented undertaking to lift a fifth of the world’s population out of poverty and put China back in what they see is its rightful place as the world’s ruling civilization. Harper too is flexing his ideology, recognizing that as China has become Canada’s second-largest trading partner and an increasingly important investor in our country, we too are forced to act in a “flexible and pragmatic” manner.
The climate change agreement is a sign of how much the world is coming to depend on China. Now that China has come to the table with the U.S., an international cap on future carbon emissions at least looks possible. China is suffering mightily from its carbon economy dependence. The bluest skies and most defined clouds I saw in three weeks there were on a giant billboard in the Shanghai airport. Otherwise a dull haze hung over everything, everywhere we went, even in the countryside villages. Much of that bad air is, of course, our bad air outsourced to manufacture the goods that make our lives so rich and healthy. It’s also a big reason why Chinese citizens have a more positive view of their current economic situation than any other citizens in the world.
In beautiful Guilin, interlaced with lakes, rivers and pedestrian markets, only electric scooters are allowed, slipping silently and exhaust-free through the streets thanks to the outlying coal plants that make their electricity – for now.
China is on the green economy warpath, now leading the world in solar installations and fast train technology. The city of Wuhan, population 10 million and soaring, has built four new subway lines in the last 10 years (out of 12 planned). They already carry 1.4 million people a day. The newest one leads to a spectacular new train station that is so massive and architecturally striking that our hosts took us to see it as a tourist attraction. Bullet trains from Wuhan to seven cities streak through the countryside on elevated guideways.
The second agreement, which allows trade between China and Canada to bypass U.S. dollars via the first renminbi (RMB) currency-trading hub in North America, signals the quiet march of the RMB to becoming the dominant currency in the world.
Jacques insists that China is becoming modern in its own way, which will one day be the way of the world as China accumulates massive reserves that finance the West’s decline into debt.
I thought about that as I said a silent “thank you” for all the English signs in public places and subway stations everywhere we went. With China’s now half-trillion-dollar domestic tourism industry booming – and poised to spill into Vancouver if we’re smart – one simple way we can start adapting to China’s ascendancy is to have Chinese signage for tourists in our city. It’s a small step on an inexorable journey into a Chinese-dominated world.
Peter Ladner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-founder of Business in Vancouver. He is a former Vancouver city councillor and former fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. He is the author of The Urban Food Revolution.