Games could test strength of friendship; in association with RBS.
THE Chinese New Year in Newcastle has long been a favourite celebration of mine. The contribution, integration and growth of the Chinese community within the North East is a significant success story, and long may it continue.
This year, however, the Chinese nation is also celebrating a showcase time, with the pounds 20bn Olympic Games heralding the country's proclaimed status as a global superpower.
In finance as in sport, China was for decades seen as a hard-working also-ran. Now it appears the labels will soon no longer say "made in China" but "owned by China".
My 20 years as a regular business visitor to China have never dimmed my fascination with the country's schizophrenic mix of desperate rural poverty and fast-growing urban consumerism. When I began visiting China it was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now it is the third-largest global economy, with enormous ambition and ruthless efficiency in implementing change.
Beijing sees the Games as a "coming-out" party when it can be recognised as an influential world culture. Shanghai is looking past the Olympics to the 2010 World Expo.
The excitement and anticipation in Beijing is now tangible - as is the smog, and the continuing concern about the country's track record of ignoring human rights.
The country will host 31,000 journalists for the Olympics. The success or failure of the spectacle as a prologue to China's emergence on the world's political, cultural and economic stage could turn on a single impulsive response by an over-vigilant Chinese official.
The watchful hosts are likely to be walking on eggshells around the Bird's Nest stadium, confident of their global status but conscious of a cynical Press ready to pounce.
It's an extraordinary year. The Year of the Rat celebrates pioneers, leaders and conquerors - a fortunate coincidence for a country eager to stamp its mark as an economic superpower.
The North East's links with Chinese businesses may be tested as the country seeks new markets.
I hope the strength of our relationships helps maintain the flow of business between our region and this ferociously powerful nation.
Nicholas Craig is a partner at Watson Burton law firm