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Sun 13 Mar 2011 12:00 AM

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Changing perceptions

Current turmoil is as much a battle for new mindsets as it is an economic one

Changing perceptions
China is taking on a greener stance to appease the West
Changing perceptions

This being the Year of the Hare or Rabbit in the Chinese calendar,
one would think that rest and recuperation would be written in the stars as the
main aims of 2011, especially seeing that 2010 had been the Year of the Tiger. Well,
little chance of that, for who could have foreseen the current turmoil engulfing
the Middle East region. What is cause for concern
is the fact that 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon.

Recently I attended a conference in Beijing. I was only able to do a bit of sightseeing
on the day I left, which was the Saturday that Premier Wen Jiabao launched his government’s
latest Five Year Plan at the National People’s Congress. This meant that Tiananmen Square was closed to gawking sightseers. Oh well,
at least I had a chance to traipse through the Forbidden City which was overrun
with local visitors out to enjoy a bit of cultural reflection on their Saturday
off.

While China
has a reputation as a voracious consumer of the world’s natural resources, its latest
development strategy reveals a remarkable new direction for the red giant: it is
turning green. The government has targeted 235million kW of new power generation
from clean energy sources over the next five years. This is part of an overall plan
to reduce the country’s energy intensity by 16% and its carbon intensity by 17%
by 2015.

This follows earlier reporting that, at its present growth trajectory,
fuelled by a remarkable manufacturing boom, China
would replace the US
as the world’s top economy in a decade or less. While China’s unbridled expansionism has been met with
a certain measure of trepidation by the West, one only has to walk around Beijing to quickly understand
that its citizens are less concerned about world domination than they are about
just getting on with ordinary life.

I think a similar and familiar sense of misplaced unease grips
the West when it comes to comprehending Saudi Arabia. The biggest question on
everyone’s minds at the moment is the likelihood of the region’s volatility impacting
on the Kingdom. Hence it was refreshing to see a recent report from Citibank stating
that Saudi Arabia is expected
to emerge as the sixth-largest economy in the world, bigger even than Canada, the UK
and Switzerland.
Similarly, the financial institution predicts steady growth in Egypt.

Citibank argues that the traditional concept of ‘emerging economy’
is outmoded in these precarious times, favouring instead what it terms ‘global growth
generators’ or 3G economies. These are “an unlikely grouping of mostly troubled
countries” with the potential to lead the way in terms of global growth.

It is clear from China’s
green stance, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s
reappraisal, that the times are, indeed, changing. Old verities no longer seem so
solid, and perceptions are fluid. It seems that both China
and Saudi Arabia
have come to realise that if you are predisposed to thinking negatively, then this
will influence everything you do. One’s indset has to be positive. How else does
one take on the entire world, and win?

Gerhard Hope, is the editor of Construction Week.

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