A new year is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. At least, that is what policymakers in Beijing will be hoping. The second half of 2018 produced some negative headlines on the economy as a domestic deleveraging drive and the intensifying trade war with the US slowed growth and undermined confidence. Will these headwinds continue battering the Chinese economy or will Beijing be able to engineer a recovery? There are few people better placed to answer this question than Shen Jianguang, one of China’s most respected economic analysts, whose career has included stints at the European Central Bank, IMF and OECD.
For many in Beijing, the trade war confirms long-held suspicions that the United States is determined to thwart China’s rise as the world’s next superpower. As a result, US demands that China abandon Made in China 2025 have also tended to be viewed by Beijing as being motivated not by concerns over fair competition, but by a desire to make sure America keeps its lead in the global innovation race. Public statements from senior figures in the Trump administration have fueled these concerns—the trade war not as an isolated incident, but part of a longer history of US attempts to undermine rival powers.
Few thinkers can speak about global governance with as much authority as Kishore Mahbubani. A former President of the United Nations Security Council, Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Foreign Ministry and Dean of the renowned Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, he has been named “the muse of the Asian century”. In his latest book, due next year, Mahbubani plans to tackle the rising tensions between the US and China. As he explains, the US should embrace a more minimalist and strategic approach to foreign policy to maximize its interests in an era of Asian dominance.
The World Bank estimates that up to 77% of jobs in China could be made redundant by machines in the long term. Investing in robots will become more attractive for manufacturers. The Chinese government also pledges to make China a “world factory” of robots. But real changes are much slower. Reports say that large numbers of workers are still used on production lines doing repetitive tasks such as scrubbing speaker systems with toothbrushes. Despite the fact that China’s labor costs are six times higher than 10 years ago, workers are often still cheaper than robots in short term.
For many years, China’s emerging companies, especially those in the internet sector, have relied on foreign capital. Alibaba and Tencent were nurtured by overseas venture capital, and were eventually listed abroad. These two companies have today become world-class giants. The market value of Alibaba was $495 billion as of late May, while Tencent’s valuation was $605 billion. This puts them among the world’s top 10 most valuable companies. The success of China’s leading tech companies is an understandable source of pride to many in China. But for China’s policymakers, a question presents itself: why do so many outstanding Chinese companies end up going public overseas?
Central and Eastern Europe faces a tough balancing act as it looks toward China for investment and growth. Launched first in 2012, the “16+1” Cooperation Framework includes 16 countries in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. As a key part of the Chinese transcontinental economic and geopolitical vision, the heavily invested “16+1” becomes a perfect solution to some Central and Eastern Europe countries facing economic crisis. This closer tie with China, however, has made EU rattled. How to balance the relationship with EU and China becomes a head-scratching problem for many.
Interesting and important China related facts you should care about—from China’s service sector growth to the drastic increase of e-sports players and their audience. You may also care about the country’s new fusion reactor setting a new record in July, and that international sewage and water treatment companies are set to chase big opportunities because the central government has pledged to lay 126,000 kilometers of new sewage pipes by 2020, enough to circle the globe three times. Plus, unknown to most, the Middle Kingdom has quietly grown into a cannabis superpower with half of the world’s legal cannabis cultivation, which is used in textiles and pharmaceuticals.
For decades, China has been a top destination for foreign firms to move their operations abroad, now the trend is reversing—Chinese firms, especially manufacturers, are now moving to the US, not only to lower the cost of production but also to build their brands in global market. Indeed, China is losing its old advantage of cheap labor and raw material, and in certain parts of the US, the land is much cheaper than in China. Meanwhile, the re-booming US economy, flexible financial system and beneficiary tax policies are also driving ambitious Chinese entrepreneurs, who are changing the “Made in China” to “Made in the US”.
After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this year, Donald Trump backtracked and dropped his accusation of China being a currency manipulator. But the issue of currency manipulation is still debatable. The RMB is certainly not a free-floating currency and the controls are complex. China’s central bank sets the daily rate with movements only allowed in a narrow 2% band. This did not change for years, until August 2015 when the central bank reformed a bit by beginning to set the daily RMB rates based on the closing value of the previous day’s interbank forex market. But it’s not considered a major change and the way to achieve a more open currency remains difficult.
China’s property market was virtually non-existent 25 years ago, but it is now one of the most critical pillars in this country and the source of incredible wealth for many of China’s citizens. Last year property prices in China’s tier one cities made another gravity-defying leap last year. By September, new home prices had jumped 27.8% in Beijing, 32.7% in Shanghai and a meteoric 34.1% in Shenzhen year-on-year. The health of this pillar remains a top concern of the government and citizens alike. But is there a looming crisis? In the near term, the answer seems to be no.