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China coast as factory of the world

The Pearl River Delta is growing by double digits and stocking Wal-Mart's shelves.

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This Christmas, as pajama-clad kids across the US wake early to race to the tree, they will probably be shaking boxes filled with toys made in China - especially from China's southeast coast.

Once a set of sleepy low-rise fishing towns, China's Pearl River Delta can now, and in the foreseeable future, be justifiably called "the factory of the world." It's the engine that places China as America's No. 1 provider of the toys beneath the typical tree, the ornaments on it, and - if artificial - the tree itself.

But China's clout goes well beyond the holiday season. Every day, year round, Guangdong province alone - which covers most of the delta - exports $300 million of goods to world markets. That's a third of China's total. Ten percent of all Delta exports are stocked on Wal-Mart's shelves. In Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and their environs, well-paved roads pass through a staggeringly crowded landscape of factories, offices, dormitories, apartments, and streams of migrant labor.

What those Chinese peasants from the poor interior find seems a different country - one of manicured coastal highways, wealthy peasants, nuclear power, and boom-time growth.

Whether China's east coast, an important new hub for global commerce, will continue logging 10 to 20 percent growth rates is a subject of some debate. US central banker Alan Greenspan warned last week that China could overheat if it does not curb its breakneck pace, and recent inflation. Also, a crisis in China's banking system, still handing out a surfeit of bad loans, could bring shudders to the Middle Kingdom, analysts say.

Yet, barring social unrest, a global meltdown, or withdrawal of foreign direct investment ($475 billion since 1998), many experts see little to stop China from advancing its prospects. The creation of wealth in a semideveloping country that now has more than 100,000 millionaires, has far-reaching implications, and is altering the power balance in the region, with China edging into the central role. The east coast is now producing both for export and domestic markets.

"A lot of people talk about overheating and how China will implode, or that it can't sustain growth," says a Singapore-based economist. "I don't see it. What's going to stop them? The West Pearl region is next."

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