Letter: Access to China

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Letter: Access to China

Sir: The Independent was not the only paper to hail the US-China World Trade Organisation agreement as giving access to a market of 1.2 billion consumers (leading article, 16 November). This is a wildly optimistic fantasy.

An estimated 900 million Chinese are still peasants living on an average income of pounds 160 per annum. The majority of urban dwellers fare slightly better at pounds 200. There is admittedly an expanding rich elite, with a sprinkling of new millionaires in the coastal cities and "special economic zones".

However, Chinese statistics are largely estimates, as the State Statistics Bureau has never recovered from its decimation during the Cultural Revolution. Thus China's unemployment figures, set to worsen with the rationalising of the state's rustbucket industries, do not include the floating population of "surplus agricultural labour" - unemployed peasants who are leaving the countryside to seek their fortunes in the cities. Their numbers are conservatively estimated at 150 million, the largest mass movement of humanity ever.

Overall, China's economy in real terms of per capita ranking, according to Gerald Segal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, is 65th, between Jamaica and Latvia. Don't expect to be selling too much too soon.

Among EU countries, who still have to accept China's entry to the WTO, only the UK has legislation preventing the import of labour camp products, such as cheap toys. The estimate of labour camp inmates varies from 2 million to 20 million, which is probably excessive.

There is much to be put right before China deserves a place at the world trade table.


Tibet Support Group, Ireland