- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

BEIJING China this week emerges as an unlikely beacon of capitalist expansion, joining the World Trade Organization with a predicted growth rate of 5 percent over the next five years, while the rest of the world's powerful economies slip into recession.
The timing of Friday's accession could not be better for the Chinese. Beijing wants to use accession to the WTO, which it has pursued for 15 years, to entice Western businesses to invest billions of dollars in addition to the vast sums already committed to China.
Although foreign investment will play a leading role in China's economic expansion, the biggest winners from its growth will not be the likes of Motorola or Coca-Cola but local businesses, such as the Hope Group, the pig swill merchants whose owners have emerged as the country's first dollar billionaires.
Twenty years ago, the brothers Yongxing and Yonghao Liu literally sold the farm and its implements to get their start as the kings of the country's animal feed business. Now they run an empire that includes banks and property holdings from the misty limestone hills of Sichuan.
A generation younger, Xu Ming, 30, a billionaire in local currency, made his fortune from supplying building materials to the construction industry. He is based in the bleak and poverty-stricken port of Dalian, in Manchuria.
"China is becoming the biggest engine of growth," said Georges Ugeux, of the New York Stock Exchange. "It is now a center-stage power, not just politically but economically."
The tastes of the new Chinese super-rich are fashioned by what is modish among the elite of Hong Kong. Status is established with the purchase of a penthouse suite with gilded bathrooms at the top of a personal tower, and such extravagances as private aircraft and heli-skiing holidays in Mongolia are becoming more common.
Along with the purely monetary rewards of their endeavors comes membership of the Communist Party and, for the truly favored entrepreneur, a place in the national congress.
While the rest of the world fears impending recession, China's new tycoons so far are untroubled by warnings of global doom. Bankruptcy is so unusual in China that one economist likened its brand of capitalism to Christianity without hell all opportunity and no fear.
With up to half of all bank loans not being repaid, however, warnings of an impending Chinese economic collapse refuse to go away. Author Gordon Chang believes the country is about to spiral into a nightmarish industrial slump that will foment large-scale street protests.
"Accession to the WTO will shake China to its foundations," he said. "One day soon, the central government will not be able to fight all those who challenge it; there simply will be too many."
Beijing brushes off this type of speculation as unduly alarmist.
Thoughts of doom will be absent as the rising stars of Chinese business celebrate membership of the WTO Friday, confidently expecting that the Chinese economy will keep on surging.


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