To the China Development forum at LSE for the second time ( I went last in 2010)
And it has both grown and become “more Chinese”- 50 % of the talks were in mandarin.
This helped – many of the speakers were very funny in their own tongue- so unlike the rather pompous business events you sometimes find in USA or Europe.
Three things stood out for me – things worth tracking and monitoring for the sake of both China and the rest of us
How green will Chinese cities be?
Prof Ricky Burdett showed data demonstrating that American cities are about as un-green as it is possible to be and none of us can afford for the rapidly swelling cities all across China (and India for that matter) to develop this way. China has to be at the forefront of green tech in architecture, city planning and public transport infrastructure. If not we will all fry –such is the scale of urbanization in China and the Indian subcontinent.
Interesting facts; 75% of CO2 emissions come from cities- so much for all those farting cows- and Sao Paulo adds a 1000 cars everyday.
Planners will have difficulty choking off the desires of ordinary people to share in the rewards and pleasures of a consumer society. Perhaps only an authoritarian regime can do it?
How tolerant will the new generation of Chinese leaders be of social media and in particular Weibo?
Social media are being used to spread news outside of official channels, to expose injustice as well as corrupt/inept officials.
Fei Deng showed how Weibo could be used to help trafficked children get back to their a parents and expose that fact that school children were not being properly fed at lunchtime. He was careful to position what he does as being in partnership with the central government- in other words as a kind of safety value for discontents and social justice that could otherwise lead to unrest.
How social media were used to break the story of a train crash in last year illustrated that we are in a time both change and ambiguity. When the story broke it was covered online and in local papers-much more widely read that national papers in China. Then the government tried to stop coverage : the failure of one of the new high speed trains was seen as a national humiliation to be avoided. Then Hu Jintao visited the crash site legitimizing media coverage on all media.
Famous blogger Isaac Mao said he felt that the censors would soon not be able to keep up with the sheer volume of content online. Yet he also pointed out later that censorship is an outsourced government funded industry that will both protect and advance its own interests- so the surveillance industry might just grow in tandem. One to watch. I sense this is what the experts really think:- social media are now too big to keep a lid on it and any attempt to do so would merely stimulate the ingenuity of the countries youth to get round it- and no sensible leader would want to do that.
Can Chinese start-ups and entrepreneurs get enough access to funding?
The development of SMEs is key to a consumer society and is being held back by lack of ready access to funds (the view of Prof Weiying Zhang).
Most have to rely on angel investors and/or connections to get their start up funds.
Thus being an entrepreneur has becomes a privilege not a right. This is holding back the economy and the amount of disposable income people have.
For SMEs to develop more rapidly they need 1) protection ( for their IP/from predatory SOEs),2) freedom to start whatever kind of business they want to start and 3) access to funds at a good rate.
In future the shift away from a SOE dominated economy to independent private companies will bring with it fundamental changes in both politics and the prosperity of ordinary Chinese-it will not just disseminate more wealth, it will change the culture as well. No going back.