By Tom Miller and Will Freeman
Beijingers call the hot and sticky months of July and August the “sauna” season. On muggy summer evenings, sensible locals sweat it out in the capital’s old lanes with sticks of fatty lamb kebabs and cold bottles of Yanjing beer.
But real men roll up their T-shirts under their armpits, ditch the pansy lager, and instead glug down the local firewater known as baijiu – a potent mash of sorghum, rice, unhusked barley and other grains.
For foreign businessmen forced to drink the stuff at countless banquets, baijiu provides an infamous challenge for the unconditioned palate. But this white spirit – generally 40-60 per cent alcohol by volume, but sometimes 70 per cent plus – is a mainstay of Chinese culture, first popularised during the Xia dynasty 4,000 years ago.
Baijiu, the world’s largest spirits category by volume, traditionally dominated the domestic booze market. But in recent years, sales volumes of China’s national liquor declined as beer, a foreign upstart, gulped up market share.
Now baijiu makers are fighting back with a proliferation of new luxury varieties designed to appeal to the country’s growing band of big spenders. Revenues are shooting up at major distilleries and baijiu is giving beer a run for its money.
By Arthur Kroeber
Since 2006, financial reforms in China have been stuck in a rut. But for a number of reasons – most simply because Beijing now has little choice – we are now convinced that financial reform is going to be a far bigger part of the China story over the next three years.
The basic reason for this belief is not the intentions of regulators but brute economic reality.
By Arthur Kroeber
We had the somewhat qualified pleasure last week of attending the spring meeting of the International Institute of Finance — the assemblage of the great and the good of the world banking industry— which this year was held in Beijing.
Although as usual for such events there was a certain amount of high-level pabulum, two clear messages emerged from the cogent presentations by Chinese speakers.
By Tom Miller
When the global financial crisis began to batter China’s exports, some Chinese officials saw it as a useful opportunity to dispense a large dose of bitter, but necessary, medicine.
Wang Yang, the Communist Party boss of Guangdong province and a confidant of China’s president Hu Jintao, clearly relished the chance to fulfill the province’s long-held ambition to replace low-end manufacturing with something bigger, more advanced and more “modern”.
“Without the current serious economic situation, it would be much more difficult for Guangdong to accomplish economic restructuring,” Mr Wang informed the local press.
Mr Wang called the plan to dump labour-intensive manufacturers and replace them with higher-value heavy industry and services “emptying the bird cage for new birds to settle down”. It sounded like a fine idea – so long as the new birds were ready.
By Arthur Kroeber
US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner’s visit to Beijing this week is sure to reinvigorate debate about a new world order run by a “G2” condominium of the US and China.
Speaking at Peking University on Monday, Mr Geithner emphasised the importance of bilateral relations. “China and the United States individually, and together, are so important in the global economy and financial system that what we do has a direct impact on the stability and strength of the international economic system,” he said.
Now, it is perfectly accurate to note that the US and China have a uniquely symbiotic relationship, that they will soon be the two largest national economies, and that many important global problems such as climate change cannot be solved without the active participation of both.
Yet none of these facts, singly or collectively, implies that a Sino-American condominium is either a viable or a desirable outcome. Both logic and evidence, in fact, suggest the opposite.