Earlier in the day Bob Geldof had stated that China has uplifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Can this be sustained or not? Jonathan Fenby, founding partner of Trusted Sources, the emerging markets research and consultancy firm, spoke on this topic at THiNK 2012.

Jonathan Fenby

Jonathan Fenby (Photo courtesy Thinkworks Pvt Ltd)

Fenby started with saying that there is a large shift to domestic consumption but “water levels are dropping at catastrophic rates” and China has to make its agriculture work. Land grap is an issue in China but judges work for the Communist Party so the people on the land won’t get their right. Fenby joked that a gathering of more than eight people already constitutes a protest. The way workers are being treated has improved quite a lot he conceded. The people in the Apple factories do work long hours but he said “the conditions in the  country side were they come from is far worse”.

“The disregard for the environment will make people come to see industrialisation as a threat” and Fenby admitted that, with respect to the environment, “China is an example of how not to do it.”

On the question of social media Fenby commented that, even though this is totally owned by the state, it is impossible to control the many millions of users and it has demonstrated some degree of reform of party officials.

On the question of the relationship with the USA Fenby said that  “China has been amazingly incompetent to convert economic power into political cloud”.  Perhaps it is unwilling as China has only two major political concerns: access to raw material and no interference with internal affairs such as Tibet. China has ample of problems itself such as environment, corruption, legal system, and inequality.

The crucial question according to Fenby is “whether the new political class to be elected this week will be able to satisfy the expectation level of the people”.