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.
Many developing nations see China as a champion and as an investor. Western countries wish to see China shoulder a greater share of the burden of global leadership, and a growing number of Chinese citizens want China to reclaim its ancient role of international dominance. But is China ready to “lead the world?” Has it reached the stage where it can set the international tone, take the central role on global issues and provide preeminent guidance toward the future? To many the answer might be “yes”, but as the foundations of the powerhouse economy are actually weaker than they seem, that assessment may be premature.
China led the world technologically in the early 15th century, yet Europe surpassed it overnight. How did this come about? Maverick economist Deirdre McCloskey offers an answer in her work. Although in her youth she fell under the sway of socialist economists, she brings an iconoclasts’ view to her subject believing it is wrong to limit the achievements of humanity to academic theories concerned solely with maximization of utility. Her latest book, Bourgeois Equality, is the concluding volume in a trilogy that seeks to explain “The Bourgeois Era,” which she believes laid the basis for the material and spiritual wealth enjoy by the modern world.
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.
In China, while state-owned enterprises dominate the monopoly industries like petroleum and telecom, the country’s private economy is still the major source for growth in production, employment and exports. Private companies are very sensitive to market changes: When profit margins shrink, they will jump out quickly. Expectations are low while the Chinese economy is under the ‘New Normal’, but the government is still concerned about private investment stagnation. The top economic agency has created a work team to look into the problem and made 60 proposals to solve the slow-down issue. But will top-down methods work?
China has achieved almost miraculous advancement in a mere 30 years, but at the same time is beset with a host of structural problems and contradictions that it must grapple with, especially as economic growth begins to slow. In this interview, Kroeber, the author of China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know, a comprehensive introduction to China’s rise from an economic backwater in the early 1980s to the world’s second-largest economy, offers his analysis to CKGSB Knowledge on how China got here, where it might be headed, and how to understand the changes and implications.
China’s industrial economy remains at the bottom of an L-shaped economic trend, according to the latest CKGSB survey of over 2,000 industrial firms nationwide. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, shows that overcapacity and weak demand remain the biggest challenges for China’s industrial economy. The Business Sentiment Index, a major indicator of the survey, stood at 46 in Q2 2016, the same with last quarter, but still indicative of contraction. The BSI is the simple average of three diffusion indices including current operating conditions, expected change in operating conditions and investment timing.
China’s economy is facing many problems that are cyclical and also structural. Some economists believe China reached the Lewis Turning Point six years ago, where the growth benefits of rural-to-urban migration dried up and wage costs started to escalate. The growth of the Chinese economy relied very much on its cheap labor—a competitive advantage that has been exhausted. Simply put, “China has come to the end of the period of easy gains in GDP.” It faces two possible paths ahead: the hard road of structural reform and painful consolidation, and the easy road of fiscal and monetary stimulus leading inevitably to further problems along the way.
China’s boom times are over. With global investor sentiment slipping, concerns are rising about spillover effects of a faltering Chinese economy on global markets and institutions. Although the facts of the problem are well known, fixing it is another issue—the reach and pace of fundamental economic policy choices have been subject to debate. In September 2015, Willem Buiter, Chief Economist at Citigroup, and his team published a research note stating that it was likely that the global economy would soon slip into recession, caused by sluggish growth in emerging markets, especially China. In this interview, Buiter assesses Chinese economic growth and the potential for global recession.