It’s tough being a travel writer. I sometimes think of going on strike and refusing to enjoy any more complimentary massages or free champagne until they improve my working conditions. That’ll show ‘em.
However, travelling the world in great luxury, and at no personal cost, does have an upside: it gives you an overview. And during my recent sojourns I’ve noticed one thing: the Chinese are here. There. And everywhere. The point was rammed home when I visited the Darling Hotel in Sydney, a lavish new casino complex where 95 per cent of the guests are Chinese.
Spookily enough, two months after my trip to Australia, my vague insight was confirmed by a survey, which shows that the Chinese are now the world’s most important tourists, overtaking the Germans and Americans in spending power.
And this is where geopolitical reality has disconnected from British perception. Too many UK pundits and journalists still think of America as unquestionably the most puissant and important country.
The BBC will send a dozen hacks to cover any old American tornado – even as they ignore vast tragedies and triumphs elsewhere. These attitudes are ludicrous – and dangerously outdated.
Consider the stats. China (population 1.35 billion) overtook America (population 320 million) as the biggest consumer of steel in 1999. That was the beginning. China overtook America as the world’s main exporter in 2007, as the biggest user of the internet in 2008, and as the world’s greatest manufacturer in 2010 (the first time America has been supplanted in this role since the 1880s, when the USA overtook the UK).
2010 was also the year China overtook America as the world’s largest car market, as the world’s largest retail market, and as the world’s greatest producer of patents. A year later China became the globe’s greatest user of energy. In 2012 China became the world’s biggest market for PCs, and the primary source of global trade. Just three days ago China unveiled the world’s most powerful computer. As for Chinese forex reserves, they total $3.4 trillion. That is to say, the loose change in China’s pockets, from all those foreign hols, is equivalent to the entire economy of Germany.