You know, I think back to those black and white photos of German parades before World War 2, and I wonder if were going regret this.
So said a friend of mine earlier this week, as we gazed down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, each side of the famous road festooned with huge flags of the Peoples Republic of China that fluttered in partnership with equally massive Union Jacks.
It was all in honour of the state visit of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping an event that Prime Minister David Cameron heralded as a sign of a golden era of co-operation between the UK and China.
We were there to see what the fuss was about.
And I was especially curious because all the volatility in the markets weve seen this year seems to lead back to China.
It is certainly a golden moment of political posturingfor good or ill.
But what could closer ties with China mean for us as investors?
Modern world: made in China
You can, of course, argue the financial payoff of this rapprochement is hardly the most important question to ask in the face of a Britain suddenly intent on being Chinas chief sidekick among the G7.
And I did feel some of the same doubts my friend had, even if it did seem churlish to point out that shed proven Godwins Law that all arguments lead to an invocation of Nazism in record time.
Many of us despair of Chinas human rights record,such as the 500,000 of its own citizens who, are according to Amnesty International, being detained without charge or trial.
China is the worlds leading applier of the death sentence for good measure, too.
Yet it seems a little late for Britain or the other Western powers or us as citizens to protest too much about state visits, while we all spend freely on Chinese goods in our shops.
Most of our ubiquitous gadgets are made in China, for instance.
The fact is that we like the rest of the worldalready do business with China on a grand scale.
Every time you play an angry Rage Against The Machine track on your Apple iPhone, youre using a device assembled in China.
Given all the Chinese products in our lives(the facts on the ground, in military parlance), you can understand the political calculation that says in for a penny, in for a trillion more pounds!
Slow down a minute
Lets then park the difficult moral questions for now. They are above my pay grade really, and outside of the scope of The Collective.
Instead, the issue for us as investors is whether were hitching our wagon to Chinas growth locomotive just as its wheels are coming off.
On Monday, for example, we learned Chinas GDP growth has slowedto 6.9%. Better than forecast, but below the Chinese governments own target.
Many economists dont believe the official figures anyway. They point to a steeper slowdown showing up in commodity prices, which have been crashing for years now.
Were also seeing signs of headwinds in individual company results.
Luxury firms like Burberryand Paris-based LVMH blamed their recent poor results on unexpected weakness in China.
Then theres the huge crash in the Chinese stock market the second largest in the world as of last year thats been blamed for at least contributing to the bumpy ride weve endured since late July.
Its all a bit ominous.
Are we doubling down on Chinas economy just as it falls a cliff?
Time will tell, but I doubt it.
Whereas I find the moral ambiguities of our leaders trying to secure closer links with China hard to navigate not to mention the strategic wisdom of China being deeply involved in our next-generation nuclear reactors, which is another itemon the table the economic argument is compelling.
Until proven otherwise, I believe the slowdown in China weve seen so far represents the fallout of a well-flagged attempt by the Chinese government to try to move their economy from relying on exports towards a more mature one based on consumption and services.
And that shift could eventually mean a far bigger market for the higher value goods and services that British companies can provide.
China is already the biggest iPhone market in the world for Apple even larger than the US!
They dont just build our products. They buy them, too.
Equally, I think recent hiccups for the likes of Burberry and Diageowhen it comes to China can clearly be laid at the foot of the anti-corruption and bribery drive that Chinas leaders have embarked upon.
While I dont doubt this is at least partly to do with securing a power base and settling scores, it also seems to be aboutreforming the Chinese Communist Party in order to push through the reforms required to make that economic transition stick.
Its hard to ask for a more modern, Western-style China, and then complain were losing some of the good old profits of bribery.
Better than bungs
So just how big could the prize be for China and for us if it pulls off this great transformation?
My fellow Share Advisor analyst Mark Rogers quotesa great statistic that truly paints a picture.
According to The Economist, while one million households today earn over $75,000 a year in China, within 15 years there should be 74 million households boasting such an income.
That is extraordinary, and it puts the present-day travails of Burberry and Diageo into perspective.
Sure, it might be tough that sales of Johnnie Walker Black Label or Burberry handbags are down in China because theyre not being gifted in shady business deals.
But how much more alluring a market are tens of millions of extra households who can buy these luxuries under their own steam?
Bull in a China shop
New researchby Credit Suisse already claims China has a bigger middle class than America.
Its getting richer quicker, too.
The optimist in me hopes that these wealthier Chinese consumers will eventually demand and win the political freedoms we in the West take for granted, just as they want our phones and trench coats.
The investor in me sees a future we cannot afford to ignore, nor be scared out of by a few bumps in economic growth along the way.
Foolish Final Thought
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