For a long time, I have been telling my friends that China is not going to use its foreign exchange reserves to bail out the US and the rest of the world. Aside from the fact that China does not feel like a superpower, it is becoming apparent with each passing day that China has very real problems of its own, and is going to have use its own reserves to help itself.
Another popular argument is that the newly rich Chinese consumers will go out and spend their yuan, helping the newly poor west out of its self-made predicament.
I have a few stories to tell you which make me doubt this.
Recently, at an apartment in Beijing, I went out to take the garbage, which is in the common area of the building near the elevators. Shortly after going into this area, I noticed that the only lights in the area, which has no windows, were two low-energy consumption bulbs on the other side of the area. Nothing else was on except for those two bulbs, including the stairwell, which was completely black and did not have any lights on. Obviously, the building management company, in an effort to save electricity, had turned off the lights to less than what I would consider safe.
So these are the same guys who are going to bail out western consumers from their problems? Hmmm….
Anyone who has stayed in China for any length of time will find small cards which have a photo of an attractive young woman smiling prettily, with a rate card and mobile phone number on the back. On these cards, the young woman will offer “massage services” with services called 西班牙骑士 and 综合保健 offered. Sometimes the cards mention that the young woman is a university student.
Now, what caught my attention recently was that their rates had gone down! The most expensive package 综合保健 or Total Healthcare Package had gone down from 398 yuan to 298 yuan. My guess is that the market was pulling back, and these young women were asking for less, at least according to my completely informal China Masseuse Index.
Then yesterday I flew from Beijing to Shenzhen. On arrival at Shenzhen airport, I took a small 20+ person bus to downtown Shenzhen. During the ride, as we were going downhill, I noticed that the bus mysteriously went silent. Then, it occurred to me that the bus driver had turned off the engine to save gasoline/petrol costs and was coasting downhill until we reached the toll booth. After we reached the toll booth, he restarted the engine, and we were on our way.
Taken in isolation, I would have said that each would at most, have been an interesting and amusing anomaly. Taken together, they paint a picture of a society which is indeed worried about the future, and is doing its best to cut expenses.
So that, from the street, is my reasoning for thinking why China will not help the west. It has too many problems of its own.
UPDATE: Caijing, the leading economics and business magazine in China, has a short report which supports my observations about falling energy demand from Chinese consumers. (h/t to Bill Bishop)