Perspectives on Foreign Trade and China
The conflict between global business and the general public is raging. The establishment political parties in the United States have been challenged on the Left by a presidential candidate who says that there has never been a single trade agreement that he’s been comfortable with and on the Right by a candidate who doesn’t think that it would be a big deal if a global trade war erupted. The success of the Brexit vote is a frightening illustration of the breadth and depth of the anger in the public. The idea of bringing jobs back from Asia (today from China, tomorrow from Vietnam, and yesterday from Japan) sounds very appealing to a factory worker in Ohio or Michigan. It does not, however, recognize the interwoven nature of global business. Over the past 50 years, we have become a global economy—the evolution of transportation and communication initiated the change and the development of global supply chains has cemented global interdependence in our DNA.
There is no better source for understanding where we are and where we are going than Parag Khanna’s new book Connectography (https://www.amazon.com/Connectography-Mapping-Future-Global-Civilization/dp/0812988558/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467288779&sr=8-1&keywords=connectography). Khanna holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and is a CNN Global Contributor. Formerly, he was a fellow at the Brookings Institution and senior geopolitical advisor to U.S. Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He brings a unique geographical and supply chain perspective to an understanding of globalization.
Khanna’s basic argument is that supply chains, not political boundaries, define how the world economy works. He argues:
- that connectivity has replaced division (infrastructure connections are more important than political boundaries),
- that devolution and aggregation are the most significant dynamics of the world economy (shifting economic activity to regions of countries and the world where they never were before and creating alliances that no one would have imagined even 5 years ago), and
- that the current “war of the world” is over connectivity not territory.
He uses his perspective as a geographer to overlay maps of the world with various sorts of supply chain data to illustrate how dramatically the functioning of the world economy is becoming less and less defined by political boundaries.
I was reading this book during a recent trip to China where I visited the traditional cities of Shanghai and Beijing as well as Wenzhou, one of the smaller Chinese cities (only 12 million inhabitants). Wenzhou has experienced a “super nova” existence going from the bright light of entrepreneurial expansion to near collapse from corruption and inability to sustain growth (http://www.economist.com/news/china/21700451-city-renowned-its-business-acumen-battles-recover-financial-crisis-it-once-was-lost). Nevertheless, it has developed a focus and a footing in several growth industries including the development of general aviation in China. This is exemplary of the economic liberalization that Khanna describes in China where power and money are shifting away from the centralized government in Beijing to a federation of mega-cities with surprising authority to define their own futures. And the tax structure in China now gives these mayors the money to move forward with such initiatives in at least a somewhat autonomous fashion. While it would be foolish to assume that the Chinese Party has been replaced by entrepreneurial mayors, China is no longer a monolith that be understood through a single lens aimed at Beijing or Shanghai.