wo Pioneer Junior College students, Atiqah and Janson met Mr Jim Rogers recently to seek his views on engaging China. The interview was conducted in conjunction with a seminar on ďEngaging ChinaĒ organized by the college.
Mr. James Beeland Rogers, Jr is an American investor and financial commentator based in Singapore. In 2007, Mr. Rogers moved from New York to Singapore with his family because ďnow is a groundbreaking time for investment potential in Asian markets.Ē Both his daughters speak fluent Mandarin.
Pioneer: To start off, we picked up one of your famous quotes that says that if you were smart in the 21st century you would move to China. How would you recommend people, especially the youths of Singapore, to ride the waves of China's economic success?
Jim Rogers: What Iíve actually said was ĎIf you were smart in 1807 you moved to London, if you were smart in 1907 you moved to New York, and if you are smart in 2007 you move to Asia.í We moved to Asia in 2007, which was why I said that. In my view, China is the next great country in the world. The 19th century was the century of the UK; the 20th century was the century of the US; and the 21st century is going to be the century of China. So to participate in the 21st century, you must know Mandarin. The better you know it, the better off you are. I am not just saying these words only. We sold our place in New York and packed up and moved to Asia. Both my children speak Mandarin like natives, so we are living it. I think the best skill that I can give my children, born in 2003 and 2008, is for them to be fluent in Mandarin and to know Asia.
Pioneer: Is the Chinese language absolutely essential for sur-vival in the Chinese economy?
Jim Rogers: No, of course not. You can survive in the American economy and barely speak English or donít speak English, but if you want to have a leg up, if you want to thrive and succeed, yes. My own girls speak Mandarin, and that does not mean that they will be successful, but it does mean that if they have to wind up working in a Chinese restaurant, they are not going to be dishwashers, they are going to be the maitre dí or the manager or in some similar position, because they do speak Mandarin, and speak it fluently like natives.
Pioneer: What is your advice for Chinese students in Singapore who are facing difficulties in speaking fluent Mandarin?
Jim Rogers: Do it. I know it is difficult and it is the same for other endeavors, whether it is playing football or designing clothes or whatever it happens to be. But if you want to have an advantage in life in the 21st century, you should learn Mandarin and moreover spend the time and energy necessary in order to do a good job.
Pioneer: What else could Malay youths like myself do in order to be able to engage with the Chinese in China in the coming years?
Jim Rogers: The most important thing is to know Mandarin. There is no question about that. If you want to engage with the Chinese, the more you know about China, the better. If you go to China and donít know that Beijing is the capital, people will probably not pay any attention to you even if you do speak Mandarin. If you donít speak Mandarin and if you donít know anything about the country, you are going to have problems.
Pioneer: In your opinion why is it important for the world and Singapore to engage with China?
Jim Rogers: China is the next great country in the world. There are a billion three hundred million Chinese in China. There are a billion and a half Chinese in the world. That is 25% of the world population. China was in decline for 300 years but in 1978, things started changing. It has been booming for 30 years. China is the only country I know that has had recurring periods of greatness. Great Britain was great once. Rome was great once. Egypt was great once. China has had four, five periods of greatness. It has had four, five periods of disaster too, donít get me wrong. But somehow, every time after a few decades of decline, the Chinese managed to turn around and come back and be very successful again. Thatís what happening now in the 21st century, in my view. I may be wrong, and maybe you should learn Danish or Malay. My children are learning Mandarin and English.
Pioneer: How else, besides learning Mandarin, can the people of Singapore do to engage China?
Jim Rogers: I would suggest that you travel to China if you can. There are many programs now that provide scholarship or grants for study trips to China. I would do everything I can to learn about China.
Pioneer: You have traveled to China a couple of times with your wife and on your own earlier on. What are the greatest insights you have drawn that serve to enrich you as a person and as an investor?
Jim Rogers: The first time I went to China was in 1984. I was then under the spell of western propaganda about these bloodthirsty, horrible people, communist people, etc. That was during the initial couple of times. But the more I drove around China the more I realized that these people are unbelievably ambitious. They work from dawn to dusk; these people are capitalists. They are better capitalists than the capitalists. They love their children, and their wish is to educate them. It became clear to me very quickly that the Chinese are full of brains, full of ambition, and want the same things out of life that I do, that the people in Germany do, the people in Australia do, that the people in Singapore do.
Pioneer: How is China a threat to the world and Singapore?
Jim Rogers: I donít see China as a threat at all. In Chinaís long history rarely have they been aggressors to outside nations. They often had civil wars and internal turmoil, but rarely did the Chinese bother to invade or attack other countries. They have a one child policy. I cannot imagine that a country where everybody has one child and one grandchild will be very war-like. People are not going to send their only grandchild to war. Unfortunately, throughout history we have had politicians make serious mistakes and drag their countries into wars, and I am sure that we will have more in the next thousand years. The threat is they are a rising power and are successful, and so some people will see them as a threat. The other perceived threat arises because the world has limited natural resources and China want their share and are now going around and buying up natural resources around the world. There will come a time when natural resources are in even shorter supply and somebody is going to say, how did China get all the oil? How did China get all the wheat? How did China get all the natural resources? The answer will be, well, they are smart and have anticipated and gone ahead and bought them. That is not going to make people happy. But in my view the threats are not real.
Pioneer: So how different is the Chinese economy compared to the western economy?
Jim Rogers: Well, Chinaís economy is coming from a very undeveloped base. For 300 years, China was in decline for many reasons. Then Mao Zedong came along and totally ruined the Chinese economy. He liberated China and made changes, but he ruined the economy, ruined agriculture, so China is coming out from a very low, undeveloped base, and is entirely different from Singapore, America, Europe, Japan, but is growing very rapidly. If you look around you - your home, your school, your lifestyle - everything you see they want it too. They donít have it now, as their country is a very poor, but it is growing very rapidly. So you have an economy that is in a rapid growth phase that is trying to catch up - with manufacturing, with infrastructure and all the things you have in Singapore, in the west and in the developed world.
Pioneer: In Singapore we have China studies in both languages, Chinese and English. What are your views on this education initiative and the languages they are taught in?
Jim Rogers: My view is that Singapore should put more resources into the teaching of Mandarin than it does now. I know that there have been views expressed that people here should not spend so much effort on Mandarin. I think this is a mistake. Singapore has a natural advantage in many ways in terms of teaching and learning Mandarin and I think it is worthwhile for it to invest in this effort. It will give Singapore even more of an advantage over the rest of the world in the 21st century, because if you look around you, most Koreans donít speak Mandarin, most Japanese donít. If you look at all the neighboring countries - Vietnam, Australia - most people in this part of the world and much less in the rest of the world, donít speak Mandarin. What can I say? I left America and came to Asia, so that my children could learn Mandarin. I am spending a lot of time and resources towards making sure my children speak Mandarin. Singapore should do the same thing.
Pioneer: A personal question, why are your daughters called Baby Bee and Happy?
Jim Rogers: Well, first of all I want you to know that I never wanted to have children. I thought children were a terrible waste of time, energy, money. I just could not imagine having children. I used to feel sorry for my friends who have children. I want you know that I was completely wrong. These little girls are the most wonderful things. I cannot get enough of them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You cannot imagine how much fun it is. But, their names: well, baby Happy, when she was about 21 months old, her name is Hilda Augusta Parker Rogers. But she used to say when she was a little baby, my name is Happy. So her name is Happy. And Baby Bee, her name is Beeland Anderson Parker Rogers. So we call her Baby Bee for short, Xiao Mi Feng.
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