Bill Carmichael: Worrying implications of China’s woes

BECAUSE of my day job teaching at a university I have made lots of Chinese friends over recent years.

The dream of many young Chinese people – many of them females, the daughters of China’s burgeoning middle class – is to study at a Western university.

The UK features high on their list of desirable destinations because of our history and culture, but most of all because we use the English language, fluency in which gives overseas students a huge advantage when they return to their home countries.

I have found them a delight to work with. Forgive a generalisation applied to an entire nation, but my experience of Chinese students is that they are unfailingly polite, very modest, terrifically hard working and determined to do their parents – who have paid huge sums to send them here – proud.

The sense of entitlement you sometimes see amongst privileged UK students is entirely absent. They know how lucky they are and they seize their opportunities with both hands.

After their studies they usually return to China and take up good jobs. Many who studied in the UK are now in senior positions back in China and harbour warm affection for the UK, and Yorkshire in particular.

Their contribution to British society is overwhelmingly positive – not just by way of increasing diversity but in hard cash terms. A study conducted for the University of Sheffield a couple of years ago estimated the city’s 8,000 overseas students contributed £120m a year to the local economy.

So for their sakes as well as ours I am hoping the dramatic stock market collapse in China this week does not herald the beginning of an economic downturn that might prevent many young Chinese people from studying abroad.

Since 1979 when the then leader Deng Xiaoping liberalised the Chinese economy, giving farmers control over their land and allowing citizens to accumulate private wealth, the country has seen rapid growth, frequently topping 10 per cent a year.

But now there are real signs of weakness in China and the rate of growth is beginning to fall. Increasing wages have made China less competitive when compared to some other Asian countries such as Vietnam, and a country heavily reliant on exports to the West is badly hit when growth stalls in places like the eurozone.

Added to the problem are fears of a huge property bubble. Ordinary Chinese citizens are forbidden by their government from investing in companies abroad, so many resort to speculating in property and land, or dabbling in increasingly volatile Chinese stocks – often using borrowed money to do so.

This is fine as long as growth continues and the rural poor continue to pour into the cities looking for new places to live, but any downturn could result in the bubble bursting and millions of people losing their life savings.

If that happens the global impact will be serious – not least in the eurozone where several other countries could be tipped into the abyss alongside Greece.

And despite healthier growth in the UK we would also be in trouble. Our banks are horribly exposed in China, and despite all the misleading talk of “austerity” our government continues to spend like a drunken sailor home on shore leave.

It can’t be said often enough – UK government spending, far from being cut, continues to increase. As a result we are sitting astride an enormous debt mountain of £1.5 trillion, leaving us terribly vulnerable to any global downturn sparked by the crisis in China.

Fun with Corbyn

If, as the pundits predict, Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour’s leader it will be disastrous news for the party, but looks like being terrific fun for the rest of us.

He has already come up with corking proposals, like printing lots of money so we can renationalise the commanding heights of the economy. I mean what could possibly go wrong with that? And I like his idea to reopen all the coalmines – although he won’t let us burn the coal because it will cause global warming.

But his latest idea for women-only train carriages is the best yet. The idea is that if you segregate men and women there will be fewer sex attacks.

It sounds like something Isis would come up with. Indeed, many Muslim countries, such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, do segregate the sexes and guess what? Sex attacks are rife.