Peter Csoregh, senior portfolio manager of Robeco's Natural Resource equities fund, said that tensions could erupt at some point as China vies with the West for natural resources to support its growth.
"Can they double [consumption] from here? Can they triple from here?" he asked at a recent Reuters conference. "Sure they can. Is there enough oil or copper in the world to allow them to do that? No."
But for now, China's strength remains a positive for the world economy, buttressing islands of growth and prosperity among the more general gloom.
Australia and New Zealand, which hitched their economic wagons to China when its booming consumption trends emerged in the middle of the last decade, barely felt the effects of the global recession as a result.
New Zealand, which has sold China lamb, grains and all manner of other foods, has been positively booming. And catering to China's demand for coal, beef and grain, Australia's economy is so solid that it has become a favored destination for investors worldwide looking for growth and a safe haven from the debt crises in Europe and the United States.
America's northern neighbor, Canada, whose economic fortunes in the past were closely tied to the U.S. economy, weathered the Great Recession with ease, thanks to China's booming demand for grains, lumber and other raw materials Canada produces in large quantities.
Commodity producers in Latin America and Africa, from Argentina and Venezuela to Gabon and Botswana, also have been lifted by Beijing's roaring demand while profiting from China's strategy of investing in commodity production ventures around the globe.
Investors take note
China's role as the locomotive of growth for a long list of countries and states represents perhaps the strongest proof to investors and economists that it has arrived as an economic superpower and will increase its mark on the global economy in the future.
A whole cottage industry of investors is piggybacking onto China's growth to try to make a profit. BlackRock and other major hedge funds and investment funds have bet billions of dollars that China will continue to drive up prices and demand for commodities for years to come.
Investors have piled into futures markets for oil, corn, soybeans and pork. They are pouring money into the currencies of commodity-producing nations like Australia and Canada, making them among the strongest in the world. Other investors have jumped on the bandwagon, as they expect perpetually rising commodity prices to be a good hedge against inflation.
Investors have been scouring the world over for prime agricultural land to buy in an effort to milk what they see as a long-term trend toward higher food and commodity prices.
China's own government and corporations have also been scouting out investments in agricultural land and commodity corporations in an effort to profit from the boom while hedging against higher prices and shoring up the Asian giant's food security.
The investment boom has driven up prices for farmland from Ethiopia to Iowa, and touched off a heated debate in Australia, New Zealand and other countries where Chinese efforts to invest in farmland and domestic industries are not always welcome.
To some, the commodities investment boom is just beginning. Danny Esposito, co-editor of the Penny Stock Detectives newsletter, said commodity investments should be an essential part of every portfolio, given the expanding middle class in China and India and their growing appetite for scarce world resources.
"With that advancement naturally comes a change in eating habits and in the foods desired," he said, driving up demand not only for meat, but for animal feed grains, such as corn and soybeans. "Where at one time meat was considered an expensive luxury, it is now an affordable part of their daily diet."
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