Why China (中 or 中国)? Why not China? Why only China?
“If we don’t pay attention to what is going on,” she told bankers, lawyers and thinkers invited by Deutsche Bank last month to mull Germany’s future, “then we will not be able to keep our standard of living.”
… “Are you sure,” she asked in the same speech, “that in 20 years’ time we will have an auto industry? Or that BASF will remain the biggest chemical concern?” Noting that Germany does not control the narrative in, say, financial markets — where influential media and ratings agencies are overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon — she urged listeners to imagine a future very soon in which German children would all be fluent in English, and familiar with Chinese culture. (She is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. Source : ‘The Making of Merkel’ by Alison Smale, in the International Herald Tribune dated 30 Oct 2012.)
Yes, one should not look at China per se but look at large emerging markets for one’s potential opportunities (job, biz, investment etc). In fact, if one is conversant with Mandarin (China), Hindi (India, but there are many other local languages too), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian (Russia), and isiZulu (South Africa’s major spoken local language at about 24%, one of the 11 official languages), one would have no problem finding opportunity in the so-called BRICS.
But alas, not everyone is a linguist and it takes time to be conversant with a foreign language. The world in the future will be multi-polar as our Uncle Sam would not be as domineering as before after the Financial Crisis in 2008; and with Europe and Japan currently in doldrums, it is up to individual BRICS to fill in the void.
Amongst individual BRICS countries, China seems like the best bet. This is because it is transiting from a communist/agrarian economy to a capitalist/manufacturing one (and to a service one in future) without too many mis-steps, after witnessing so many upheavals since the fall of Qing Dynasty. Since this is a transition, she would offer tremendous opportunities along the way. For example, Shanghai is positioning itself to become a financial centre by 2020, so kudos to you if you have financial skills. Tianjin is building an eco-city in collaboration with Singapore, so good for you if you are into environmental technology.
The current China is just like European Union where there are different regions that are at the different stages of economic development. You have the economically advanced regions like Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing etc, and next the up and coming areas such as Tianjin, Hangzhou, Chongqing etc. If you want to be the trailblazers, then there are the cities such as Haikou (Hainan Province), Xining (Qinghai Province), Guilin (Guangxi Province) etc that offers huge potential. So there are ample opportunities for whatever skills that you possess.
The dismal global economic environment from 2008 onward also bodes well for its transition. Unlike Japan which soared into economy highs at a very fast pace from 1960s due to industrial demands and subsequent suffered catastrophic falls from 1989, China would have a lot of time to transit its different and diverse regions and tweak errors along the way. So the long transition offers many and different opportunities if you are discerning enough. Hence you might want to start learning Mandarin to engage the Chinese Dragon.
Just like the Japanese companies in the past and the Korean companies currently, more and more China companies will go global to extend its reach in future. So it would augur well for you if you know Mandarin so as to play a middle-man role between the Chinese and the local counterparts when the opportunity arises.
Finally, learning Mandarin helps to keep the brain active as it uses both sides of the brain, see this BBC report.