China's economic Great Leap Forward stands as one of the defining images of the closing moments of the 20th century. Now an economic powerhouse, China, and its $3.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves are viewed by some with fear and trepidation. Others see it as an immense opportunity to create a more widely shared prosperity, bring peoples closer together and remove the barriers in the way of understanding and peace.
Tina Mak is one of those. A star real estate broker and consultant with Coldwell Banker in Vancouver, Mak, 48, was born in Hong Kong and educated in England. She speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, and is a Canadian citizen. She hosts a weekly radio program geared to educating a predominantly Chinese audience about the do's and don'ts of real estate investing. Mak is also the founding president of the Vancouver chapter, the first outside the United States, of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) . This relatively new real estate industry organization was created to bridge the knowledge and culture gap between Asia and North America.
Stanford University professor Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man (1992), argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West signaled the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. Fukuyama -- and many others -- didn't count on China. This unique brand of 21st-century communism is full of mind-bending contradictions that shatter assumptions about the link between liberal democracy and the market economy.
The exponential growth of the Chinese economy and the rise of the middle class in China is an entirely new factor. Armed with savings and disposable income, an increasing number of Chinese has entered the North American real estate market. Some families are looking for a safe-haven for their life savings. Others seek a place to retire. As prosperity spreads and its economy grows there's another 600 million people in China striving to reach middle class status.
While this undoubtedly creates challenges for Chinese policy makers, Mak says it represents a tremendous economic opportunity for North America, a highly favored destination for Chinese investors. The stability of the political and investment climate, relatively low prices, and attractive location compared to other key markets, "makes North America a powerful magnet", Mak says -- just like it was for her and her family.
Of those making Canada a preferred destination, investors from China and India have flocked to British Columbia and the greater Vancouver region. Over 25 per cent of residents in Greater Vancouver -- Canada's third largest metropolitan region after Toronto and Montreal -- speak Chinese as a first language.
Mainland Chinese, now cash rich, are actively searching for new places to deploy their capital. In June 2013, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hong Kong's largest developer, sold almost 90 per cent of units on offer in Hong Kong for its River Green project in Vancouver within a month when it debuted last month. Centaline Property said that about half of those sales went to Chinese buyers. The South China Morning Post reported
that Hong Kong's overseas property transactions jumping nearly 50 per cent in May 2013 from a year earlier -- of which Mainland Chinese made up a fifth of sales.
All of this is forcing a fundamental rethink a in the way commercial and residential realtors deal with the newly affluent and middle-class client from China. As Tina Mak told me last week: "Money does have direction, though. It flows -- always -- where the best returns can be found. Money is dispassionate and today has no borders. Money is objective, unemotional and wholly lacking in prejudice. It's one and only driving criteria is the search for better returns at his lowest possible risk."
Emerging economies are growing, fueled by a new educated and sophisticated new middle class. This newly prosperous class will aggressively seek out investments in North America, including real estate.
So while the global economy adjusts and expands to this new normal, within it rests uncertainty -- and for entrepreneurs like Tina Mak, magnificent promise to be seized, and certainly nothing to fear, only embraces.
People like Tina Mak and the hundreds of thousands like her also highlight another powerful reality: Canada and the United States is far from "full" for smart, ambitious, and hard working people like her. Quite the contrary. We need a lot more.