Remaking of China's economy

DANCING TO A DIFFERENT TUNE: China's government said it is willing to accept slower economic growth as it makes structural reforms, including a shift to domestic consumption instead of government-led investment. The reform promises come despite a slowing domestic economy, which expanded 7.7 per cent last year.


    Sep 20, 2013

    Remaking of China's economy

    LONG after concerns about US monetary policy have faded, a more profound issue will still dog global policymakers: how to handle the second stage of China's economic revolution.

    The first phase, industrialisation, shook the world.

    Commodity-producing countries boomed as they fed China's endless appetite for natural resources. Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies last decade were in Africa.

    China's flood of keenly priced manufactured goods hollowed out jobs in advanced and emerging nations alike but also helped cap inflation and made an array of consumer goods affordable for tens of millions of people for the first time.

    The second stage of China's development promises to be no less momentous.

    Consumption will take over the growth baton from investment. Services will grow as a share of the economy, while industry shrinks. Commodity-intensive mass manufacturing based on cheap labour will give way to greener, cleaner ways of making things.

    That's the plan, anyway.

    China will remain the most powerful engine of global growth for the next couple of decades, said Dr Li Jian of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, the Commerce Ministry's think-tank.

    "China has realised that it cannot blindly rely on investment and exports as the main drivers of growth. So China's demand will be more balanced," said Dr Li.

    A lot is at stake for the global economy too.

    Dr Philip Schellekens, an economist with the World Bank in Washington, said the importance of the reforms Beijing intends to make cannot be overstated.

    "The structural transformations that we think are going to happen in China over the next two decades will matter far more than the near-term vulnerability," he said.

    On balance, commodity-exporting developing economies stand to be affected more than rich nations.

    Economists fret that too many emerging markets spent their windfalls from surging raw-material prices instead of ploughing them into infrastructure and other investments.

    China's appetite for agricultural commodities and energy should hold up well but Capital Economics, a London consultancy, said it was concerned about large metal exporters that have not saved their extra income and so are running current-account deficits. It singled out South Africa, Zambia, Chile and Peru as being particularly vulnerable.

    In the case of advanced economies, China's transition is a double-edged sword, according to Mr He Yifeng, an analyst at Hongyuan Securities in Beijing.

    "For the United States and Europe, China's rebalancing could create more competition for them. But they can take the initiative by focusing on the higher end of the value chain, relying on knowledge and technology exports," he said.