Reading Joseph Sternberg’s “China, the World’s Greater Fool?” (Opinion, WSJ, 8/16/2012), the image of Walt Disney’s cartoon robot, WALL-E, came to mind. As the article pointed out, China is paying top dollar for technologies such as electric car battery maker A123 and troubled oil and gas producer NEXEN. Call in the mindless robot to stack these among the others in the bulging warehouse of Beijing’s previous Five-Year-Plan mandates.
WALL-E could vacation in one of the several ultra-modern Chinese cities recently built and filled with every modern convenience yet devoid of human habitation. Or perhaps he could take an uninterrupted stroll down Zhuhai Sanzao International Airport’s 13,000 feet long seldom used runway while looking longingly overhead at the abundant air traffic vectored to the surrounding airports of Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Certainly the little metallic robot would feel attracted to Shanghai’s multibillion dollar Maglev magnetically levitated train. Reaching speeds up to 268 miles per hour, it covers its entire track length of 18 miles from Pudong International in less than eight minutes. However, WALL-E would need to transfer to more pedestrian conveyances at Longyang Road, far short of the epicenter of Shanghai’s 23 million residents on the other side of the Huangpu River.
Cities with no people, airports confined by military airspace restrictions, subway exits to vacant fields, are all part of a “Build it and they will come,” central planning mindset that is running out of cash to stoke into the engine of the Chinese version of hope and change. When over 1.3 billion Chinese loose hope in the largely artificially stimulated changes around them, it is going to take more than a little WALL-E to handle the mess.