chapter  5
13 Pages

China and the future of European cities


Introduction Media coverage of China’s rising global power has been less fearful in Britain than in Germany, the United States or some other countries. There are various reasons why China tends to be seen as less of an economic threat. One is that Britain has experienced an unusually long period of uninterrupted employment growth since the early 1990s. Most manufacturing jobs had already disappeared before China’s rise to prominence, so British livelihoods are now perceived to be less directly dependent on this sector than they were two or three decades ago. Services have become a much larger part of Britain’s labour market and many are ‘high-touch’ activities dependent on proximity between service providers and business clients or individual consumers. Service jobs that appear most vulnerable to movement offshore, such as routine information processing and call centres, seem more likely to go to India than China. There are other reasons why ‘China fever’ may not have been contagious in Britain. Households have enjoyed the benefits of abundant consumer goods produced more cheaply in China than elsewhere. This has stimulated strong growth in retailing and distribution, and the resulting demand for consumer credit has spawned many new jobs in financial services as well. Chinese competition and cheap imports have also helped to keep overall inflation down and contributed to rising house prices, making homeowners feel better off and encouraging them to borrow more for higher spending on leisure, entertainment, restaurants, holidays and other personal services. Higher education is another sector that has benefited directly from China’s economic boom – there are currently more Chinese students attending British universities than from any other foreign country. The UK is one of the most important destinations for Chinese students going abroad, partly because of the English language. Less well known is the fact that China’s burgeoning foreignexchange reserves are an important source of investment in many Western economies. Besides these economic linkages, growing cultural curiosity and popular engagement through television and tourism may have moderated wider British anxieties about China’s growing economic strength. This is not to say that there are no concerns about the potential of China’s

resurgence to undermine the quality of life of ordinary people. The British government has repeatedly stressed the need for workers and their children to invest more time and money in boosting their education and skills in order to safeguard their employability and living standards, with China explicitly mentioned as a threat. A flexible labour market with less job security than in the past for lessskilled workers is also alleged to be important to enable Britain to remain competitive under globalization. Rising domestic prices of fuel, minerals, steel, cement and other basic resources and commodities are often attributed in the media to an insatiable demand stemming from China’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. And looming environmental concerns such as global warming are increasingly linked to China’s prolific use of non-renewable resources, its inefficient methods of energy production and its neglect of air and water pollution (Hutton 2007).