I went to one of those fancy private dinners at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday night.
The dinner had a special format. The roughly 40 attendees sat around a long, straight table, like students at Hogwarts. As the smoked salmon appetizer arrived, the hosts informed us that we were not to spend the evening conversing with our immediate neighbours. Instead, a microphone would be passed around the table, and we would each give a three-minute speech about something interesting.
Naturally, not all of the attendees limited themselves to three minutes. And, naturally, not all of the speeches were interesting.
But many were!
One attendee, for example, the famous CEO of a massive global corporation, began his speech by asking whether anyone could remember what the price of oil was in 2000.
One person at the table remembered: ~$US10 a barrel.
That was startling, given today’s global hyperventilation about the shock of ~$US50 oil.
Then the CEO, whose company does business in China, said most Westerners were seriously underestimating China.
Most Westerners, he said, love to diss China, talking about how all the Chinese do is steal and copy stuff.
These Westerners are, at best, behind the times, the CEO said.
The CEO pointed to the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which is now one of the 10 most valuable companies in the world. He pointed to the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which used to copy Apple to a comical extent but has now captured the hearts and minds of Chinese consumers while building top-notch smartphones that cost a fraction of the iPhone’s price. He pointed to China’s recent military intervention in Africa, observing that, as with the US, China is increasingly going to deploy troops to defend its interests around the world.
The CEO also needled one of the other dinner guests, who had shared his view that China’s recent economic growth was not the 7.5% that the country reported but actually a lame 5%. The CEO observed that 5% growth on an economy the size of China’s ($US10 trillion) is still impressive growth — growth that puts most of the rest of the world to shame. He noted that China’s economy had grown from basically zero 30 years go to become the second-biggest economy in the world.
Basically, he said, Westerners who think that all China does is copy and steal stuff have their heads in the sand. The next few decades are China’s decades, he implied. And it’s time Westerners woke up to the fact that China is going to take over the world.
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