World Views host Suzette Grillot is in the middle of a four-city tour of China on behalf of her day job as the Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of International Studies. She lived in Beijing for a semester as a teaching fellow at Beijing University in 2007, but she’s there now with the College’s Assistant Dean, Rebecca Cruise.
ENERGY DEMAND MEANS MORE ATTENTION FROM THE NEIGHBORS
Last year Russian energy companies signed a series of deals with China to shift oil exports from Europe to Asia. The surge of crude through a Kazakhstan pipeline started January 1.
“Everything’s lit up. Everything’s running. There are lots of cars. People are going everywhere,” Grillot says.
Cruise says that demand for energy, coupled with an export-led economy that has developed rapidly over the past 30 years, means there’s a large, rising middle class.
“These are people that want to have nice things, they want to have electricity, they want to have cars, and all of that takes energy,” Cruise says. “There’s also a political thing going on here, as we see Russia getting closer and closer to China, and we also saw recently Ukraine now negotiating similar policies with China.”
QUENCHING THAT THIRST REQUIRES OLDER (AND DIRTIER) SOURCES
Grillot says coal is still a major source of energy in China, and as they sat along a river in Shanghai, they saw barge after barge heading down the Huangpu River.
“This is all related to the smog,” Grillot says. “[The air quality] is very evident when you arrive in China. The air is just unbelievably thick and dense, full of pollution, because of the coal burning and other types of energy production.”
CONSUMERISM DISTRACTS FROM HARSHER REALITIES
Cruise says even though China has liberalized their economy, they’re still technically a communist country, with all the underlying tensions that come with a tight grip.
“We’ve had trouble getting on the Internet, [or] finding anything about China that could even be construed as negative,” Cruise says. “Although we’ve been able to get on Facebook, social media seems to be monitored in some regard as well.”
Grillot says average citizens in China rarely address political issues day-to-day.
"We’ve had some conversations while we were here about social services and programs, and things like maternity leave and childcare and women in society,” Grillot says. “We heard how expensive it is, and more and more expensive to live in China and to own an apartment. We really don’t see it on the surface.”
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