I came across this cartoon on Global Times, a Chinese Newspaper in English (www.globaltimes.cn). The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, together with the badly injured Euro kid is knocking at the gates of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Forbidden City had been the center of Chinese politics for hundreds of years. Now, it is Zhongnanhai, just on the other side of the road.
This cartoon very nicely depicts the current situation. The rich, debt-ridden countries of Europe ask poor China for money. “Hold on”, you might think, “China’s poor and Europe’s rich? Isn’t it the other way round?”. Well, it really depends how you see it.
If you look at the figures of the national government, China is indeed looking very good. More than USD 3 trillion of foreign currency reserves, limited overall debt and an economy strongly growing at 9.2% per year. Even inflation is back at around 4 to 5%, what else do you want? Compare that situation with Greece, Spain or Italy. Naturally, China is a rich country and Europe’s south is poor.
And it doesn’t stop there. Just look at cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Modern airports, new roads, the worlds biggest skyscrapers, trains running up to 320kph (200mph), an abundance of BMWs and Mercedes. Looking at China’s first-tier cities you can be forgiven to think China is indeed a rich country.
But Shanghai and Beijing are just two massive cities of around 10 to 15 million citizen. And China’s population stands at an astonishing 1.3 billion. Around 50% still live in the countryside under living conditions last seen in Europe shortly after the second world war. No running water, no electricity, not even a proper toilet. And even China’s first-tier cities south of Shanghai don’t have a heating system as, so the government says, it doesn’t get cold in winter (just above zero centigrade).
Workers from the countryside, the poor part of the population, built China’s fast trains, new roads and skyscrapers. These workers take a train for more than 30 hours from their home towns in the middle of China to the coastal cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dongguan and Xiamen to find work in the countless factories and construction sites. They do that to earn the money and to make sure their children will have a better education and life.
These workers produce the world’s iPhones, iPads, Playstation, Nintendo, printers and PC under working conditions which, despite a lot better than living and working in the countryside, will still be repulsive for any European having grown up in their social security hammock.
These workers have increased China’s foreign currency reserves to up to USD 3 trillion. So they should profit from it. I don’t know how a Chinese factory worker, making USD 400 a month, working 70 hours a week without health insurance or pension plan feels when being told his country’s currency reserves are being used to bail out broke European countries. Countries in which workers enjoy a 35 to 38 hours work week, comprehensive health insurance, pension and up to six weeks of paid holidays. But I know how I would react if I were this Chinese factory worker. “Are you out of your f***ing mind????” would’ve been my reaction.
I just hope that Wen Jiabao will be blunt with Angela Merkel. China is still a relatively poor country. Yes, her development has been amazing – no country has been growing so fast over such a long period of time before. China is the second biggest economy in the world. But on a per-capita basis it is still poor. Don’t be mistaken by fast trains, nice airports and cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Just take your backpack and visit China’s other provinces. You can see yourself how far China still has to go before catching up with other countries. Before China starts bailing out other countries it should invest in its own country first. USD 3 trillion can build a lot of schools, universities, hospitals, underground systems and trains. And China needs these to finally become what Western countries are already – a first world country.
So what should European countries do? Maybe take the Chinese as an example. I’ve never come across a people with such an outstanding work ethic. They don’t complain just get the job done. So my dear Europeans, instead of going to the streets in Athens, Paris and Rome to defend your privileges, how about accepting just trying to solve your problems yourself – through hard work and sacrifices?