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APEC Blue

Datum:27 november 2014
Auteur:Martin Uebele
APEC China
APEC China

In the first week of November 2014 I visited Beijing to present and discuss my project proposal for an NWO VIDI career grant. It is titled "Risk and the Great Divergence: Growth and stability in historical economic development," and rests on close collaboration with prof. Ni Yuping, Tsinghua University. During my stay, I gave talks at Renmin University, Beijing Normal University and Tsinghua University, and received valuable comments that will help to improve the proposal.

I enjoyed this week tremendously not only because I could add some knots in my East Asian network, but also because the city presented itself as relaxed, clean-swept and gleaming with sunlight as one could only imagine. Knowing about Beijing’s reputation as a polluted and congested behemoth this was more than unexpected, especially since the nice weather stayed for the whole week. It slowly dawned to me that this was no coincidence, and it became a constant subject of conversation between me and my hosts. In fact it became soon acknowledged officially that the absence of smog had been engineered by the Chinese government in order to set the tone for the impending APEC conference. The measures taken were to ban of private cars with certain number plates from the streets, to temporarily shut down hundreds of factories, and to send public employees into a one-week holiday.

What does this tell us about China today? First, how powerful the government is. Shutting down one of China’s economic powerhouses for at least half a month must come with an enormous bill, both in foregone taxes and in citizens’ goodwill but apparently implementing it went smoothly. Imagine that in London on short notice.

Second, how important it is for the government to save face in front of the world. Such a radical short term measure reveals a high degree of awareness for one’s weak spots, especially the downsides of economic growth in terms of pollution and urban overcrowding.

And third, what the attitude of Beijing residents is. The ones I talked to reacted mostly with fatalistic jokes. One of those defined “APEC blue” in the language of a woman discussing her most recent dating experience: “It was nice, but it’s not going to last: it’s ‘APEC blue’.”

Dr. Martin Uebele from the chairgroup of economic and social history visited Beijing 2-8 November 2014 to present and discuss his project proposal for an NWO VIDI career grant. It is titled "Risk and the Great Divergence: Growth and stability in historical economic development," and rests on close collaboration with prof. Ni Yuping who will visit the University of Groningen for several months in the first half of 2015. During his stay, dr. Uebele gave talks at Renmin University, Beijing Normal University and Tsinghua University.