A city the size of London in the middle of China
Have you heard of Changsha, Chengdu and Chongqing? How about Wuhan or Weifang? Indeed try a little test: name seven cities in China … you can even count Hong Kong.
To my shame, I was unaware of any of these places before I set off for China last week. I was also unable to name seven Chinese cities.
As a late ring in for our Foreign Minister – who had something on even closer to his heart than China – I joined Trade Minister Craig Emerson in leading a trade delegation to China of a hundred Australian businesses.
Our mission (the brainchild of Kevin Rudd) was to extend the outlook of Australian business to include cities in China beyond Beijing and Shanghai and sectors beyond the provision of resources.
The delegation visited each of these little known cities: every one of them equal to or larger than London.
It is hard to imagine that there is one city the size of London lurking in the middle of China that few Australians have heard of. But it simply beggars belief to learn that there are 16 which fit this description.
These cities are the backbones of provinces whose astonishing economic growth is largely responsible for keeping the world’s economy in black numbers. For example, the economy of Shandong province itself is larger than those of several G20 countries.
The Chinese Government in its most recent economic blueprint has put a focus on pushing development west into central China. As a result a place like Chongqing experienced growth of 17% last year compared to a national average of 10%.
But the Chinese strategy is not simply limited to geography. There is also a growing realisation that an emerging middle class demands a different kind of economic growth: one that is driven by domestic consumption rather than exporting manufactured goods; and one that emphasises the quality of life rather than growth at all costs – a corollary of this is an increasing focus on the service economy.
For Australia’s engagement with China the implications are profound.
Whereas over 80% of our exports to China are currently resources, looking forward, China offers markets of enormous proportions for all the modern services that a developed economy like Australia has to offer.
For many Australian businesses that journey is already well underway.
VR TEK Global is an Australian company specialising in recycling technologies which has developed a process to turn used tyres into high value car components. Technology that was developed at Deakin University in Geelong is now being put into practice dealing with the mountains of used tyres in Hunan.
The Tsingtao brewery in Shandong province, one of China’s two largest brewers, takes 70% of its barley from Australia, much of it provided by Elders.
But nowhere is our new emerging relationship with China more evident than in architecture.
In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as many other cities in China architecture is blossoming. The lines, form and amazing colours of a building like the Canton Tower create a completely different aesthetic which defines modernity in the 21st Century.
Buildings such as these seem to be playing by a new set of rules when it comes to structure and form. It is emblematic of modern China.
What is occurring in China today is an economic transformation in such a short space of time which is extending the bounds of the human experience. New waters are being charted.
This plays right into Australia’s strengths, because we are by nature an imaginative people full of ingenuity. Looking outside the square, finding answers beyond the realms of conformity, charting new waters is what we do.
So it is no surprise when looking at these fantastic buildings to discover that Australians are right in the thick of their design.
Marshall Day Acoustics are responsible for designing the acoustics in the Guangzhou Opera House. John Bilmon from PTW architects in association with his Chinese partner designed the famous Water Cube which hosted the swimming at the Beijing Olympics. The Water Cube is now a Chinese icon and as such must surely be one of the most important works ever designed by an Australian architect.
But be it architecture, environmental remediation or accounting, Australian ingenuity is beautifully placed to take advantage of this next chapter in China’s journey.
The size of China is a mask. The single giant red patch on the map on the eastern side of Eurasia with one or two cities marked on its east coast belies a mass of teeming human activity in its heart which is occurring under the radar.
Once we look through the entity of China, and its thirty or more provinces are revealed, the opportunities for business become boundless.
These are opportunities Australia must seize.
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