China ‘bubble’ worries loom

China's economy continues to boom, but could the bubble burst?

    Blushing brides are among the few visitors to
    Shanghai's Thames Town 
    Just relax, says the photographer, as the young bride wriggles in her ivory gown.

    Big day nerves are normal, but there are few locations more romantic than a perfect English countrytown backdrop for their wedding photos.

    Look a little closer though at the oh-so-English bright red phone box outside the picture-perfect stone church.

    And that elegant Georgian terrace opposite? Well it just got its first coat of paint.

    Rather than the British Home Counties, this is Thames Town - a $700m property development just outside Shanghai.

    The development is a re-creation of a small English town, built in only three years, with shops, schools, restaurants and residential homes in a variety of old British styles.

    Prices range from $100,000 for an apartment to just under a million for a four-bedroom villa.

    Ghost town

    A slice of England transported
    to suburban China
    The properties have all been sold, but only a handful of the potential 10,000 occupants have moved in. Apart from elaborate facades, the shops are all empty.

    This mock-English ghost town is a good example of what is wrong with China's property boom - the speculators have moved in, but the residents have not.

    "Capital is flowing into the real estate market in a massive way," says Professor Lang Xian Ping of Hong Kong’s City University.

    "That in turn creates a bubble, but if the bubble bursts, that's really serious".

    But the booming property market is already a very serious problem for many ordinary Chinese who find it impossible to get on to the ladder as prices spiral upwards.

    Wu Jun is one of many Chinese wondering where he went wrong.

    He is one of China’s bright young entrepreneurs, a college graduate who started his own company, making rubber moulds.

    Wu Jun says that despite business success
    a new home remains a distant dream
    Although his business has been a success, it has not given him the opportunities he thought it would, nor the sort of wealth so often associated with China's new capitalists.

    Wu Jun knows the rampant property market means it will be a long time before his family can afford a new home.

    "Unless you find a really fantastic job, or win the lottery, if you’re just a normal person, I estimate it'll take at least 20 years to buy a home", he says.

    He still lives in a cramped apartment and his lifestyle is basic.

    Like many young Chinese he is expected to support his family who were given free accommodation under China's old socialist system.

    Things are different under the new capitalist regime.

    Rollercoaster stocks

    The stock markets in China have had a rollercoaster ride recently, and although investment has been flooding in, investors have much to be wary about.

    China's stock market fails
    to excite many investors
    Many have had their fingers burned by insider trading scandals and stocks that have been artificially inflated.

    Although the financial mechanisms are in place, most international investors are worried about systems that do not have a transparent rule of law.

    For many, the Chinese stock markets offer an awful lot of promise, but as yet very little substance.

    At the same time a growing number of economists say that China’s headline-grabbing double-digit growth figures hide serious problems that the world needs to wake up to.
    "A lot of countries rely on the prosperous growth of China, and the abilities of the Chinese economy are central to most countries ... including the US," says Professor Lang.
    China’s economy is not yet mature enough to bear such a responsibility.

    What is needed, Lang says, are serious anti-corruption campaigns to stop the misreporting of figures and mishandling of funds that has plagued so many of China’s infrastructure projects.

    Thames Town - a town in
    need of some residents

    For the commuters rushing to work in Shanghai’s gleaming business district, it may not seem like it but the biggest threat to China’s economic stability lies among the skyscrapers.

    China’s four big banks have a 30 per cent level of bad debt, which indicates that much of the country's recent growth has been built on bad credit.

    That means the foundations on which China’s boom has been built are far from strong.

    Back on the High Street in Thames Town, developers are still waiting for the shoppers to flock in.

    Unlike its identical twin in suburban England, property prices here are far from assured.

    Unless the residential homes and business space fills up, and in the thousands of other property developments all over the country, China could see its economic bubble pop.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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