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Metro Beijing

City has all the right credentials

Updated: 2011-05-25 07:52
By Daniel Garst ( China Daily)

City has all the right credentials

Professor's suggestion that Beijing is not global enough is simply ridiculous

Has Beijing become a true global metropolis? If professor Ren Yuan at Fudan University's school of social development and public policy is to be believed, both here and Shanghai lack even international stature.

In comments that received wide coverage in the Chinese media, Ren cites the small share of the capital's population that is made up of expatriates (below 1 percent). In London and New York, expats make up 30 percent and 16 percent of the population respectively. However, other yardsticks, such as a city's political and economic significance, infrastructure, iconic architecture and cultural scene, surely matter more in defining global status.

As the capital of China, Beijing has international geopolitical importance in spades. At the same time, it is quickly developing as a key Chinese business hub, especially in high technology. Moreover, what happens in the capital reverberates throughout the global economy.

Turning to infrastructure, Beijing boasts the gleaming state-of-the-art Capital International Airport.

To be sure, the city faces serious water supply problems, has the "great wall of traffic" and its subway is often jam-packed, but speaking of the latter, it has improved vastly over just the past five years and will get even better, as a slew of new lines will put residents within walking distance of a subway station. Compare that with the crumbling London Underground or aging Paris Metro. And let's not even start about India's highly touted global city, Mumbai.

Beijing has long been home to many iconic places, such as the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square. Like the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower, these locations are immediately recognized around the world. Many of Beijing's newer structures, most notably the Bird's Nest stadium, which merges international avant-garde and traditional Chinese design concepts, are also putting the capital on the architectural map, while places like the Prosper Center and Parkview Green show Beijing is taking a lead in eco-friendly construction.

Beijing's emergence as a global city is especially evident in the cultural arena, particularly the visual arts, music and independent fashion design.

When it comes to the visual arts, the capital boasts an amazing contemporary arts scene, with numerous galleries and artistic colonies showcasing cutting-edge paintings, sculpture and photography. Although these artists certainly draw inspiration from Chinese culture, they are also heavily influenced by avant-garde counterparts in the West. Beijing's vibrant rock scene and numerous music festivals underscore its rise as an international music center, too.

The capital has also suddenly become a global fashion design center. Vogue magazine did a feature story on the movement here, in which Beijing-born designer Liu Lu explained that because younger fashion-conscious Chinese women are more influenced by globalization, "it's hard to be local and parochial". Liu also said she believes Beijing's future in this area is bright, as young designers have more space here than in traditional fashion centers, like New York. "It's so wide open," she said. "If you have a dream, you can realize your dream."

So in a whole range of critical areas, Beijing is in fact a global city. But don't just take my word for it. The British-based Globalization and World Cities Research Network has a more conventional ranking of global metropolises based on the presence of four advanced producer services (accounting, advertising, law, and banking and finance), classifying them as alpha, beta or gamma. While they rate London and New York as alpha++, Beijing is not far behind with an alpha+ rating. That puts it right up there with Hong Kong, Tokyo, Milan, Paris, Singapore and Sydney.

Not too shabby for a city whose expatriate population only stands at 91,000.

The author is a corporate trainer at a State-owned enterprise. To comment, e-mail The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of METRO.

(China Daily 05/25/2011)