Challenges facing Chinese economy

For the past 40 years, China has been one of the strongest performing economies – transforming itself from a developing economy to an unprecedented level of prosperity. However, in recent years, there have been concerns the rapid rate of growth in China is beginning to slow down and over the next few years, economic challenges …

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Impact of slowdown in Chinese economy

Readers Question: If there is a significant slowdown in the rate of Chinese economic growth – how will it affect the UK and other global economies? Summary The Chinese economy has been growing very rapidly, and is now one of the biggest economies in the world. The size of the Chinese economy means it has …

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Impact of Chinese stock market crash

In recent months, the Chinese stock market has been very volatile, with sharp drops in prices since last July. On August 24th, share prices fell 9% – one of the biggest single day falls. People fear this is the bursting of the Chinese stock market bubble which could have serious effects on the global economy. …

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Threats and opportunities of Chinese growth on UK economy

Readers Question: Hello I recently saw a programme How China Fooled the World – with Robert Peston and I was wondering what threats and opportunities does the growth of economies like China and India provide to the UK economy?

According to the IMF, in 2010, the Chinese economy was $5,878 billion – second only to the US economy. If we use GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP), the size of the Chinese economy is estimated to be even larger, at around $10,119 billion.

China also has a growth rate, averaging close to 10% a year. Even if there is a slowdown in this record rate of economic growth, China is forecast to become the dominant world economy within 10 or 20 years. India is another sleeping giant. Although India’s growth rate is slower than China it is the second most populous country and is still catching up with the rest of the world.

Opportunities of Chinese / Indian growth on UK economy

Low cost of manufactured goods. One major consequence of economic growth in China is that the UK has benefited from lower prices of many manufactured goods, imported from China. If you have ever wondered how Pound shops can sell so many goods for £1 – the answer is directly importing from China. China’s success in keeping costs low has created a downward pressure on prices. This helps to keep inflation in the UK low and improve living standards for UK consumers.

Growing consumer class. So far China’s growth has mostly concentrated on export led growth, leading to a large current account surplus. However, the next stage of Chinese economic development will likely see a growing consumer class who wish to purchase more luxury goods and services. This provides a significant opportunity for UK exporters of goods and services. Because of the size of the Chinese economy, there is strong latent demand. This could benefit UK exporters of  high value added goods, such as nuclear technology, chemicals, cars (see: what UK exports). Also, there will be growing demand for UK services, such as university education / learning English. So far China’s growth has been somewhat one-sided – we have seen UK manufacturing firms squeezed out of business, but the other side of the equation is that British firms will have a strong growing market in China.

Lower costs of production. Another big advantage of the development of the Chinese and Indian economy is that it provides UK firms with potential lower costs of production. For example, many UK service centres have been shifted to English speaking centres in India. This dramatically reduces labour costs, leading to lower costs for telephones e.t.c. Also, an English firm which innovates a new product can use the low cost manufactured process of China to bring the product to the market at a competitive price. This is speeding up the globalisation of production. Increasingly we see a product produced in different sections of the world. e.g. the most famous is probably ‘Apple – designed in California, produced in China.’

Alternative to US / Europe. Traditionally, the UK economy has been reliant on exports to the EU and US. With the EU and US economy relatively stagnant, growth in exports to non-EU countries suggests the economy will become more diversified and less reliant on the EU trading block.  (see: UK exports to non-EU countries)


Threats of Chinese growth

Increased competition for raw materials. Chinese growth has come at a cost of seeing rising price of raw materials. For example, during the recession of 2008-13, we saw periods of rising oil prices. This is unusual – usually during a recession in the West, oil prices fall. But, due to the growing demand from China and Asia, oil prices have been rising. This has squeezed living standards in the West. We faced both recession and rising prices. As the China and India economy grows, the pressure on raw materials is likely to exacerbate.

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What happens if China sells its dollar assets?

Readers Question:

As for the argument that China can always use its foreign exchange (forex) reserves to provide further stimulus to prop up the economy, the people who purport this have little knowledge of basic economics. 

If China were to use substantial forex reserves in this way, it would become a large net-seller of U.S. Treasury bonds. To prevent a spike in interest rates, the U.S. central bank would have to significantly step up purchases, funded ultimately by private citizens savings. Less of these savings would dampen U.S. consumption and ultimately, Chinese exports to the US.. In other words, a move by China to substantially cut forex reserves would not only be a disaster for the developed world but for China itself.”

China has built up substantial dollar assets, (US treasuries) China has done this for various reasons, including:

  • It wants to make use of its current account surplus.
  • In the past it has sought to keep the Chinese currency undervalued. Buying dollar assets keeps the Chinese currency weak, making Chinese exports more competitive boosting Chinese economic growth. (see: Chinese currency manipulation)

It is estimated that China has over $3.6 trillion of foreign reserves (Bloomberg). Approximately, 60%, of these are in dollar assets. This includes $1,294 trillion of US Treasuries (US government debt). China is the biggest foreign creditor to the US.

However, China has signalled that it will be seeking to hold less foreign reserves and reduce the % of reserves held in dollars – diversifying into other currencies.

Now, the question is what will happen to US / Chinese and Global economy if they start selling these dollar assets.

Impact on Chinese economy of selling US Treasuries

  • Appreciation in the Yuan and depreciation in the US dollar. If China sold US assets and held more of its own currency, it would cause an appreciation in the Yuan and fall in the value of the dollar. This would reduce the competitiveness of Chinese exports, leading to lower Chinese economic growth, and possible higher unemployment.
  • Reduction in Chinese current account surplus.

    In the past few years, we have seen a reduction in China’s current account surplus, a sell off of dollars assets would reduce this deficit by even more.
  • Selling foreign assets could be used to boost domestic demand by financing state investment. This could help offset the likely fall in exports. However, the concern would be whether the state could satisfactorily invest the large foreign currency reserves. It may be more inefficient that the private sector exports affected by the appreciation.
  • Reducing inflationary pressures. An appreciation in the Yuan will reduce inflationary pressure in China.

How would the sale of dollar assets affect the US economy?

China holds considerable amounts of US debt. If China stopped buying US treasuries, it would cause a few effects:

Upward pressure on US interest rates. If there is less demand for US Treasury bonds, this will push up interest rates. Making it more expensive for the US to borrow. If China became a big sellers, it might also adversely affect confidence in US Treasuries causing other investors to demand higher rates too.

Higher interest rates on government bonds may push up general interest rates, and may cause lower economic growth in the US. Higher rates increase the cost of borrowing and discourage investment and spending.

However, it is important to bear in mind Chinese holdings of US debt is sometimes exaggerated.
Oct 2012, China holds $1,169 out of a total foreign holdings of $5,526 (20%) (US Treasury) It is less than 8% of total US debt. Therefore, the impact on US interest rates is not necessarily critical if China reduces demand for US Treasuries.


It should be remembered US interest rates are close to an all time low (see above). Higher interest rates are not necessarily the end of the US economy. As long as domestic demand is reasonably strong, the US can cope with higher interest rates on US Treasuries.

Also, if China did sell US Treasuries, you may see the Federal Reserve delay its tapering and reversal of Quantitative easing. The US Treasury could absorb some of these Chinese sales by delaying its tapering programme.

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Will China challenge the West?

Readers Question: 1. Does state capitalism as practised in China pose a fundamental challenge to the Western model of liberal-democratic capitalism?

No, I don’t think so. From a political perspective, no matter how economic successful China might be, there will never be any enthusiasm to replicate China’s one party political system. In fact, it is most likely to be the other way around. Increased economic living standards in China are likely to cause increased demand for political and democratic freedom within China; there is already growing resentment at corruption within the state apparatus. It make take a few years or a few decades, but it is China’s political system which will be challenged by its own economic success.

That’s enough on politics, what about the economics? Does China’s growth pose a threat or benefit to the rest of the world?

From an economic perspective, Chinese state capitalism has been successful in creating very high rates of economic growth over the past few decades. Depending on which measure of GDP you use, China is forecast to overtake US economy at some stage (though recent downward revisions to China’s growth may mean it doesn’t occur until the next century. But, nevertheless, the growth of the Chinese economy has been very significant and has many impact on the world economy.

Challenges from Chinese rapid economic growth

Increased price and demand for raw materials. The global recession of 2008-12 was unique in having a period of recession, but rising commodity prices. Usually, when the western economic go into recession, demand for raw materials falls, and therefore the price falls – cushioning the impact of the recession. However, this time, rising demand from China and Asia, meant in the recession, we saw rising commodity prices – making the recession more difficult. Over the medium term, China’s economic growth will put increased pressure on raw materials and push up oil and other commodity prices. There will be greater competition for limited supplies of raw materials

  • However, this will spur the Western economies to increase fuel efficiency and look for alternatives to fossil fuels, which in the long term is desirable.

Environmental challenges. As Chinese GDP grows, there will be rise in greenhouse gases and other environmental costs, making it more challenging to deal with global warming.

  • However, the biggest levels of pollution still come from Western economies.

Global imbalances from high saving rates. In the boom period of 2000-2007, China experienced a large current account surplus. The Chinese kept their currency undervalued through using surplus foreign currency and purchasing US bonds. Arguably, these large capital outflows distorted markets. Artificially pushing down US interest rates contributing to a boom in US lending – and reducing US exports through keeping the dollar overvalued.

  • However, these global imbalances have been significantly reduced in recent years. The Chinese currency has steadily appreciated as the government have tried to contain inflationary pressures. This shows that Chinese growth can evolve from relying on cheap exports to more balanced with a growing middle class willing to spend and buy imports.

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