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How China is redefining the length of long-term

We’ve always tried to take the long-term view, even if it’s hard to look around, or over, what’s right in front of us.

At the moment, I think there are plenty of us thinking the same way: what lies beyond the current unpleasantness? What will the world look like for our children, whatever age they are?

In an era defined by a global health crisis and a retreat from the practice of globalism itself, these rhetorical questions seem justified.

America and China’s trade war has set the world’s two most powerful economies against each other with the logical conclusion that, if this continues, will the smaller nations (us among them) have to choose which one they ally themselves with?

Will we have to decide between WhatsApp or WeChat? Google or Baidu? To TikTok or not? How close are we to becoming data points of either Amazon or Alibaba but never both?

Divided by lines?

Essentially, the spat over Tik Tok’s ownership in the US and the rest of the world in general, is a foretaste of what may well be far starker dividing lines. Given that we’ve offered potential citizenship rights to the people of Hong Kong (my birthplace) as they wrestle with the reality of Chinese rule, you don’t have to be Henry Kissinger to work out with which power we will side.

Not for the first time, I’m exaggerating for effect but we are undergoing a geo-political tectonic shift.

Where that leaves everyone can, in part, be answered by looking at how their societies and economies will be shaped in the years ahead.

Demography can give us a clue as to what future productivity may look like and the broader and “pointier” the population pyramid, very roughly, this translates into an economy that will develop and benefit from a resoundingly younger population as the decades march by.

Shaped by demographics

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to know that Africa’s pyramid is how you’d draw one if you're a child. At the risk of sounding geo-politically naive, combine this growing, dynamic demographic with the Chinese Belt and Road investment strategy and you may well have the infrastructure and industry to marshall the abundant energy and ambition on this continent.

This animation paints a vivid picture of how the population of each is transforming.

This is especially the case in the more densely populated countries such as Nigeria in the west and Ethiopia, as one of the countries on the more populous east.

When you consider the impact of China’s one-child policy on its populace, in shape, more akin to France and Italy, and its relentless hunger for natural resources and commodities, it would seem to make sense to develop even deeper overseas connections (or protectorate by proxy, depending on your view).

By any analysis, this is the ultimate long-term approach. When you’re president for life, you are afforded a luxury few democratic leaders in the west can access: time.

And he may be the most divisive leader in America’s recent history but Trump’s assertive action against China has been broadly welcomed across the political spectrum in a rare moment of consensus towards an entity that deploys both capital and ideology to achieve its global ends.

What those ends are will be a long way from the fate of who owns a social media platform built upon billions of seconds-long video clips. The inevitable outcome will be much more than that.

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Will we have to decide between WhatsApp or WeChat? Google or Baidu? To Tik Tok or not?

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After 40 years of experience in the pensions world, I'm sharing my insights.