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Beijing vignettes

It is very hot in Beijing at present and the vast stretches of concrete  pavements heat up and radiate the already strong heat. I am based at Peking University which is in the north-west of Beijing and that is an area well-situated both for good academics and for sightseeing. I’ve been talking to some excellent academics and done some of the usual tourist things – visiting the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace, nearby Tsinghua University (the key science-engineering university of China), the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube that were used in the Olympics.   I have also just spent a lot of time wandering around the beautiful Peking University campus.

I took some laundry to a local shop yesterday (my hotel charges about $20 to wash and iron a shirt!) and found myself outside the college where, during the Cultural Revolution,  Deng Xiaoping’s son, Deng Pufang, was tortured and forced to jump out of an upper story window onto a concrete floor – he became a paraplegic. Deng Pufang has dedicated the rest of his life to helping those with disabilities.

The campus is a historical place – for a time Chairman Mao worked in the library here when a young man.

On a mundane note I got caught in an unbelievably bad traffic snarl at an intersection on Chengfu Road.  The lights had gone at the intersection and drivers had charged into the intersection area. As far as I could see the front of each car faced into the side of another car so no-one could go anywhere. It was an intractable traffic knot that seemed impossible to unravel.  Finally police arrived and after 20 minutes or so the knot was unravelled.  My non-existent Chinese wasn’t going to help me give the drivers a lecture on’Prisoner Dilemmas’  and how the pursuit of individual advantage can make all worse off.

Parts of Beijing look like Bangkok – a prime target for some sort of congestion pricing and a comparatively easy target given the logical layout of the city in terms of four efficient ringroads and numerous arterials.

The big news in China is the ‘swine flu’ virus –  there are temperature detectors everywhere including at the entrance to the hotel. Coming from Victoria does not necessarily make one flavour of the month!

A fairly focus here on the iron ore price negotiations with Rio and BHP-Billiton.  Most here assume that the failure of the Chinalco bid was politics and I don’t think I was believed when I argued it was a self-interest issue. An interesting fact I learned was that China had attempted to join forces with South Korea and Japan to increase its monopsony bargaining power in iron ore markets.

There is daily material in the press on climate change. It is a major issue of concern in China.

It is easy to make wide-eyed apocalytic statements about China – e.g. that  China will dominate the world in the 21st century.  There is so much going on that is positive – many happy faces and much good humour.  More on this later.

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