On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Get ready to take on the China challenge

Foreign newsmen attending the 58th World Newspaper Congress and 12th World Editors Forum in Seoul last week may not even have noticed what nationality kim chi they were being served but to the South Korean reporters and traders at the local markets, it was a hot issue indeed.

The South Koreans themselves, of course, are no strangers to making imitations of branded products like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. But even in this world of fakes, the traders at Itaewon, where one can buy such products, say that China-made imitations are also making their way there.

The world, including Malaysia, must wake up to the reality that China has become the world's largest producer of almost everything.

Many factories in Malaysia, including several in Penang, have relocated to China to take advantage of its cheaper labour.

Chinese workers are not merely the low-skilled ones but also well-trained personnel in science and engineering. It produces 250,000 engineering graduates each year. For comparison, India produces 150,000 a year.

One big news item last week was China's decision to scrap its concessions on textiles to avert a trade war with the United States and Europe.

The US and Europe, alarmed over the Chinese inroads, have taken steps to restrict imports of Chinese clothing and textiles. It's simply a protectionist action on the part of the West but China has correctly played down the issue, preferring not to fight a war it cannot win.

It is interesting to note that the focus on economic growth – with GDP expanding at more than 8% a year – remains the main agenda for the government and people of China. Instead of constantly patting themselves on the back and seeking attention, Chinese entrepreneurs have cleverly projected themselves as weak Third World players, even as they surge to become dominant global players at the same time.

All this is taking place in an increasingly competitive world where countries which cannot change will lag behind.

It is said that nations which build fortresses will remain stagnant while those prepared to move, change and adapt will become strong.

The question is whether Malaysia is ready for all these high-speed economic changes taking place around the world.

Our leaders, no doubt, are fully aware of the consequences of lagging behind.

The government intends to get rid of the subsidy mentality and dependence on crutches but there is obviously resistance. Such stubborn mindsets have to be tackled. But time waits for no one. The economic challenge to Malaysians no longer comes from a Malay, a Chinese or an Indian but from China, India and the rest of the world.

In an increasingly connected world, the entry of China and India would have a tremendous impact on Malaysia.

There is no way we can take them on but we can learn to gain from them and treat these two giants as partners rather than competitors.

Our Malaysian politicians need to lead the people, regardless of their race, to face these global changes. We have spent too much time on issues which benefit no one. Instead of playing to the gallery by bringing up issues of the past that smack of communalism, we need to move on.

In this context, the government must be commended for taking steps to make Mandarin and Tamil part of the curriculum in national schools.

There has been talk that the government is prepared to even hire teachers from China and India if there is a shortage.

We must not be afraid of learning Mandarin and Tamil because these two languages are international languages. It is to the advantage of our young ones, regardless of their race, to know these two and even more languages if we wish to do business with these two economic giants.

Malaysian businessmen, besides Singaporeans, enjoy an advantage in China and India because of the ethnic and linguistic links.

For that matter, Arabic too should be an elective subject in schools and universities as West Asia, especially Dubai, is also moving at a furious pace.

The emphasis on English needs to be further encouraged, not stifled, if we wish to move on.

Our leaders should not be cowed by those who, in the name of nationalism, selfishly limit the advancement of English in our education system.

Last week, a friend gave me a large copper-tooled scene of The Last Supper. It was made at a factory in Guangdong, China.

The statues of many Hindu deities on sale in Singapore, according to The Straits Times, are also from China.

Nothing seems sacred any more and Malaysia had better wake up to that fact.