24 Hours in China
A daily snapshot of life inside the world’s most valuable metal market
On November 15th 1999 a team of sleep-deprived trade delegates from the US emerged from all-night talks in Beijing.
Relations were tense. America had just accidentally flattened a Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia having plugged the wrong coordinates into its missile system. But US trade rep Charlene Barshefsky and China's foreign minister Shi Guangsheng drank champagne as the two countries announced the biggest trade deal in modern history.
After 13 years of on-off negotiations, China agreed to open-up its vast economy, dropping tariffs on thousands of goods, from beef to computers, in exchange for joining the World Trade Organization.
It was a turning point for the world economy. China’s consumers would benefit from cheap imports, economists predicted, including American cars and films, whilst its clunky state-owned industrial groups would be outmanoeuvred by Western competitors. How it didn't turn out that way. China is now the world's biggest exporter and will overtake the US as the world's biggest economy within 10 years.
Counting down to the 20th-anniversary of the deal these daily snapshots will wind through China’s economy, looking at its fast-changing society and the path its people are on, from birth rates and military spending to copper imports and the online shopping habits of millennials.