China Trade, Communications and Tourism
Internal trade was stimulated by the economic progress of the last decades of the twentieth century and therefore by the reforms of the eighties: the exchange between city and countryside intensified in parallel with the reduction of the village economy, largely aimed at self-consumption. Even more drastic changes have affected China’s foreign trade over the course of half a century. Until the 1940s, exchanges took place eminently with the United States and the Western countries of Europe; with the birth of the People’s Republic, foreign exchange passed for approx. 75% to the USSR and other socialist states. After 1960, the political crisis between China and the USSR led to the almost total closure of this fundamental current of trade; a radical turnaround ensued which led, for a decade, to limiting trade with Third World countries. With the seventies, after China’s admission to the UN, there was a new turning point whereby the absolute majority of foreign trade takes place with non-socialist countries. Statistical data on the increase in commercial activities with foreign countries help to define the profile of a country that seems to be aimed at dominating the world scene in this area as well. From 1980 to 1996, the dollar value of exports increased eightfold and in the following eight years exports tripled further, making China one of the world’s top 10 exporters. The volume of Chinese foreign trade has significantly increased with the annexation of Hong Kong, especially as regards exports, and the trade balance is in surplus, while the range of relations is constantly growing both in terms of goods and space. According to PaulSourcing, the main exports are made up of machinery and electronics, clothing and textiles, food products and chemical products which, together, represent 65%, in monetary value, of exports and which, it should be emphasized, are industrial products and not mineral raw materials or agricultural (China is, however, also the world’s sixth largest exporter of coal). The main partner countries of China are the United States (21%) and Japan (9.5%), followed at some distance by South Korea (4.6%); Hong Kong has a fundamental role as a transit point, through which 16% of exports pass. Among the most significant suppliers are Japan (14.6%), South Korea (11.3%), Taiwan (11%) and the United States (7.5%). Italy ranks 10th in the ranking of China’s suppliers. Chinese imports mainly concern industrial plants and high-tech equipment, such as aerial, medical and optical ones, some raw materials (oil, iron, steel) and semi-finished products destined for domestic industries, fine chemicals. The “doors” of international trade are represented by the “Special Economic Zones” (SEZ) whose success has rapidly increased the number of foreign branches and commercial offices (starting with Japanese banks) in the open cities and also in some of those “Not open”, such as the capital Beijing, and port infrastructures (about 450 seaports). In particular, the port of Shanghai has now reached a dimension of global importance. The radical reforms of the financial sector introduced in 1994, which unified exchange rates, favored the emergence of commercial banks and the establishment of hundreds of branches of foreign banks. In 2003, the Banking Supervisory Commission was created, with the task of managing, among other things, the enormous mass of bank bad debts created in the previous decade, while in 2005 the government decided to abandon the parity of the yuan with the dollar., and to revalue it, letting it float against a basket of international currencies. The growth of the stock exchanges has been very remarkable in recent years.
Tourism is also increasingly important, favored by large investments, which is estimated to represent around 5% of GDP. In 2006 the country welcomed 49.6 million visitors, ranking fourth among the most visited countries in the world; this data owes a great deal to the attraction and receptivity offered by Hong Kong and to a lesser extent by Macao, but undeniably strong is the call of historical-artistic sites and works scattered throughout the country (among the most visited the Forbidden City of Beijing, the Great Wall, the tombs of the Ming emperors and the terracotta warriors of Xi’an). The advent of the socialist market economy allowed the transformation of tourism from a subversive phenomenon (until the end of the 1970s the only visitors were those officially invited by the government) into a potential resource: the number of cities that can be visited by foreigners has been enlarged and new infrastructures have been built and new tourist services have been prepared. The most numerous visitors are the Japanese, followed by Americans and Europeans. Limits to tourism development are represented by communications and transport, still lacking, and by the scarce protection of part of the natural and artistic heritage.
In the past, the main communication arteries of classical China had in Beijing the almost unique fulcrum of the entire territorial system and were aimed above all at connecting the North and the South of the immense country. After the economic development of the large port centers (Shanghai, Canton, Tianjiin, Fuzhou, Dalian etc.) the primary lines of traffic began to connect the coast eminently to the inland regions. The railway network is of particular importance as it is better suited to transporting large quantities of goods over long distances (40% of freight transport and 45% of passengers). Although underdeveloped compared to the vastness of the country, it connects all the Chinese regions; it exceeds (2005) 75,000 km (19,400 of which electrified), a value more than doubled compared to that of 1949. Among the major lines are: the Beijing-Canton, over 2350 km; the so-called Manchurian railway, 2370 km long, to which the Trans-Mongolian railway also joins; the Beijing-Lanzhou and the Lanzhou-Ürümqi (extended to connect with former Soviet Central Asia), both of approx. 1800 km; the Paochi-Chongqing (1170 km), with two branches that connect China to the Viet Nam railway lines. In 2006 the Qinghai-Tibet railway was inaugurated which crosses the Tangula pass at 5072 m (the highest in the world). The road network, which counted 120,000 km in 1949, of which only 80,000 actually usable, in 2005 counted 1,930,543 km (of which 1,591,791 asphalted) and is connected to the networks of neighboring countries. The road system is mainly developed in the eastern coastal regions, where the major cities are connected by highways. In June 2007, the longest bridge in the world (Hangzhou Bay Bridge) was completed on an arm of the sea that crosses the East China Sea for 36 km, connecting Cixi, in Zhejiang province, with Juaixing City in the north (opening at traffic is scheduled for June 2008). The streets of inland waters, which extend for over 100,000 km. The works concerned in particular the Chang Jiang basin and the Imperial Canal (Grand Canal or Da Yunhe), a fundamental artery of 1782 km (the longest canal in the world) between the N and the Center of the country, which connects the Huang He with the S. For the most part, China’s international trade takes place by sea and has Hong Kong and Shanghai as its reference ports: both world-class, with annual traffic well over 100 million tonnes each. But above all, air transport has been increased, essential for a country of this size: A dozen companies operate there (all publicly owned with the exception of Shanghai Airlines, 75% owned by the municipality of Shanghai and 25% private capital, and Shenzhen Airlines, totally private), which transport (2005) over 136 million passengers and over one million tonnes of freight; about 200 main internal connections are activated, while foreign companies operating in Chinese airports have risen to about thirty. The main airports are Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xiamen, Canton, Shenyang. The telecommunications sector is growing at very high rates, but only a part (about 10%) of the territory is covered by telephone services and the contents of the Internet are largely subject to government control.