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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Is Asia right to fear China trade boom?
Exporters in smaller Asian countries are concerned about competition from China
Will China's exports hurt other Asian economies?
Many countries express eagerness for China's membership of the WTO but some businesses in Asia fear competition from the world's most populous country. The BBC's Stephen Vines visits Shantou in southern China and questions whether Chinese industry really poses a threat.

I first visited Shantou some 13 years ago as a journalist on a tour of China's special economic zones - or little islands of capitalism with a strong export orientation.

Shantou, a port city some 360 kilometres north east of Hong Kong, was a bit of a dump even though it is the centre of a part of China that has produced some of the world's most successful Chinese business leaders.

Returning, cheque book in hand, and wanting to buy a consignment of porcelain, the city looked a lot better and there were even some decent places to stay.

It seemed as though Shantou was getting its act together.

Reality sets in

This impression was quickly dented when I met a Hong Kong businessman who poured out a torrent of stories about corruption and the generally sluggish state of business.

Sluggish seemed an understatement as I began the trawl around increasingly unprepossessing porcelain factories.

Only one had a room that could properly be described as a showroom and this was also the only factory with anything approximating to a catalogue.

The others invited this bemused buyer to root through large stacks of plates, cups and whatever else they had in an attempt to unearth the required goods.

Suggestions of further communication by email were met with blank stares. At best there was a possibility of keeping in touch by fax, assuming, as was not always the case, that the machine was switched on and working.

Dented confidence

Bear in mind that Shantou is supposed to be geared up for export business, indeed the whole area is designated for this very purpose.

And just in case I had failed to believe the Hong Kong businessman's stories of corruption, the local police helped to confirm their veracity.

On the way out of town, me and my colleagues were subject to a fairly low level shakedown. It hardly broke the bank but then again hardly suggested that the rule of law was functioning in the way it needs to function to inspire business confidence.

If this small experience of trying to buy goods in China is anything like being representative, it is hard to believe that once China gains admission to the WTO, it will be quite the fearsome export competitor some of its rivals expect it to be.

BBC's Stephen Vines
"It is hard to believe China will be quite the fearsome export competitor its rivals fear"
See also:

31 Jul 01 | Business
China lifts price controls
31 Jul 01 | Business
World trade talks 'in jeopardy'
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China makes WTO pledges
19 May 00 | Business
Analysis: China's WTO hopes
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