Martin Khor

Last week saw the completion of China’s leadership transition, with Xi Jinping as the new President and Li Keqiang the new Premier.

President Xi set the world speculating when he spoke of “striving to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

One Western newspaper commented it was a collective national dream, contrasting it, unfavourably, to the “American dream” of giving individuals equal opportunities.

But to the Chinese, the promised renaissance of the nation is a reminder of the collective humiliation during the colonial era and the “dream” to win back its previous place as a world leader in science, technology, economy and culture.

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C.P. Chandrasekhar

If the international media are to be believed the world, still struggling with recession, is faced with a potential new threat emanating from China. Underlying that threat is a rapid rise in credit provided by a “shadow banking” sector to developers in an increasingly fragile property market. Efforts to address the property bubble or reduce fragility in the financial system can slow China’s growth substantially, aggravating global difficulties.

The difficulty here is that the evidence is patchy and not always reliable. According to one estimate, since the post-crisis stimulus of 2008, total public and private debt in China has risen to more than 200 per cent of GDP. Figures collated by the World Bank show that credit to the private sector rose from 104 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 130 per cent in 2010, before declining marginally in 2011. The evidence suggests that 2012 has seen a further sharp increase.

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Sunanda Sen, Guest Blogger

Concerns have been rising, in recent months, over the current state of China’s external balance and the future of the RMB. Apprehensions relate to the negative balances, which have been visible in China’s financial balance since the last quarter of 2011. The negative sums were respectively (-) $ 3.02 and  (-)$ 4.21 billion during the second and third quarters of 2012, preceded by an even larger sum at (-)$ 29.0 billion in Q4 2011. Such deficits contrast with the surpluses in the financial account usually maintained, which were as much as $13.20 billion during Q4 of 2010.  These changes have been matched by tendencies for its official reserves to slide downwards. For instance, there was a $ 6 trillion drop in official reserves between March and June 2012. Pressures on the RMB rate even led to its depreciation, from 6.30 per dollar in April 2012 to 6.41 by August 2012. The currency, however, reverted to its earlier phase of appreciation, with the rate moving up from RMB 6.38 to RMB 6.31 between 24th July 2012 and 18th January 2013.

Differences relating to the exchange rate have continued to prevail across officials and think tanks in China and the US, with the latter holding China’s exchange rate management responsible for the continuing global account imbalances between the two countries. With pressures on China to appreciate the currency, the US Treasury even came to the point on in April 2010 of deciding whether China can be treated as a currency manipulator. The on-going dynamics of China’s foreign exchange transactions can be better understood by tracking the following major breaks in China’s exchange rate policy:

First, an end to the prevailing fixed RMB-dollar rate in 2005, which came largely with pressures from the US. Despite the twin surpluses between the current and the capital account, China was maintaining, since 1997, a fixed exchange rate at around 8.27 RMB per dollar. The change to managed floating, still supported by direct purchases of foreign currency which were flowing in abundance with the twin surpluses, led the RMB to rise immediately to 8.11 per dollar, with gradual appreciations since then. With appreciations continuing, the change to a floating RMB did not, however, lead to currency speculation till the third quarter of 2011.

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Yılmaz Akyüz

It is now generally agreed that China cannot go back to the export-led growth it had enjoyed in the run-up to the global financial crisis even with a return of the US and Europe to vigorous growth.  It needs to expand the domestic market by reversing the secular decline in the share of private consumption in GDP, which has been hovering around wartime-like levels of some 35 per cent.  It should do so not so much by reducing the household propensity to save as by increasing the share of household income in GDP which has been in a downward trend for almost two decades.  This would require a judicious combination of wage, agricultural pricing and tax policies and significantly increased government transfers, particularly to poor rural households, financed with dividends from state-owned enterprises (Export Dependence and Sustainability of Growth in China).

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Ilene Grabel

Through much of 2010 and 2011 many of us watched the unfolding “currency war.” The currency war construct came into vogue after Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega began to complain openly in 2010 about the pressures placed on his economy and currency (and that of other rapidly-growing developing countries) by the cheap credit made available by the US Federal Reserve and other wealthy country central banks. Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, joined the rhetorical fray later in 2012 by calling US President Obama and European leaders on the carpet for what she termed the “monetary tsunami” of hot money coming from rich countries.

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Matías Vernengo

It has become increasingly common to suggest that on top of the European debacle and the sluggish recovery in the United States, China might be on the verge of a collapse, and with it the last bastion of economic growth in the world economy would also be gone. Not only the center is stagnant, but also the periphery of the global economy is very fragile. But the probability of a Chinese slowdown is greatly exaggerated.

Paul Krugman, who has been correct about the need for fiscal expansion in the United States, and about the European Central Bank (ECB) mismanagement of the Greek crisis, for example, has suggested that China is in the middle of a housing bubble that can burst at any time (see also Jayati Ghosh and C. P. Chandrasekhar here for a similar, but broader view of the dangers in 2012). This view insinuates that growth in China is fundamentally dependent on domestic demand, but that the sources of the expansion are fragile. It, further, suggests that China now looks very similar to the US before the Lehman Brothers crisis in September 2008.

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Sarah Anderson, guest blogger, part of our 2011 Spotlight G20 Series

Signs of a New World Order are everywhere here in the French Riviera, as the elite city of Cannes hosts the G20, the ultimate elite club. The local business rag, the Riviera Times, trumpets a recovery of the tourism business during the 2011 summer season – thanks to a 50 percent increase in visitors from China.

In my hotel lobby there are stacks of China Daily, but no such freebies from the newspapers of the Old World Order powers. Walking by the kiosks, though, I see European headlines rejoicing at the likelihood that China will aid in the Greek bailout. The head of the European Financial Stability Facility, the pot set up to rescue basket case countries, traveled to Beijing last week and rattled a tin cup for donations from China’s $3 trillion reserve fund. This comes amid news that Chinese investors have acquired distressed Swedish carmaker Saab. (They already own Volvo.)

How will China’s juggernaut status affect the G20’s agenda?  In both positive and negative ways, in my view. On the positive side, they could hold some of the other governments’ most extreme free market tendencies in check. Take, for example, some of the positions the Obama administration is pushing in bilateral and regional free trade agreements. In the recently signed treaties with Panama and Colombia, they pushed through new rules that ban the use of capital controls, despite the fact that many countries are using these policy tools to combat financial volatility and the International Monetary Fund is recommending them in certain circumstances. The Chinese government, a capital controls user, would never go along with it if the Obama administration tried to push such nonsense at the global level.

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Ilene Grabel, part of our 2011 Spotlight G20 Series

Remember the WTO– the institution that we loved to hate? We haven’t been hearing much from or about the institution since its 2003 meeting in Cancun Mexico. That meeting marked the emergence of open conflict between wealthy and developing nations on a number of issues (such as agricultural protection). The conflict left the institution frozen and irrelevant. It now stands on the sidelines as policymakers crisscross the globe signing bi- and multi-lateral agreements.

The G20 seems to be outpacing the WTO in the march toward irrelevance.  When it was organized in the early days of the financial meltdown, many progressives (including me) viewed the G20 as an embryo from which new and at least somewhat more inclusive discussions of global economic policy could emerge. In its early days the shock of the global crisis seemed to have engendered a genuine “Keynesian moment.” G20 leaders collectively declared the death of the Washington Consensus, indicted the financial sector for its misdeeds, acknowledged the economic firepower of the rapidly growing developing countries that became new lenders to the IMF, and took tentative steps toward amplification of the voice of developing countries at the IMF and World Bank.

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Triple Crisis blogger Mark Blyth originally published this article in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

Last week’s EU agreement to refinance Greece’s debt seems to have calmed markets concerned with the possible default of Greece and subsequent contagion in the eurozone. But EU refinancing was not the only solution on offer: in June, an entirely different solution was hinted at from an unlikely source.

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was on a tour of European capitals last month, he stressed two things at each stop: that a stable eurozone is vital to China and that China is Europe’s friend. Indeed, from Beijing’s perspective, when it comes to Europe, self-interest and altruism neatly coincide. If China were to buy only half of all outstanding Greek sovereign debt (a bargain at around $220 billion, a fraction of China’s dollar assets), it would not only resolve the eurozone crisis and add to Chinese prestige but it would help give Beijing the sort of reserve asset that it needs to diversify its holdings out of dollars. Currently, 70 percent of China’s reserves are in dollars, and China does not even make the list of the top 40 holders of Greek debt. But why would China not take such an opportunity?

For one, China probably has as little faith in the EU’s ability to solve its debt crisis over the long run as do the rest of the world’s financial markets, more bailouts notwithstanding. But another answer is possible — one that links the 2008 financial crisis and the 2011 European bond market crisis to a possible Chinese end run around the 2007 Foreign Investment and National Security Act. This U.S. law makes it hard for China to diversify out of its $3 trillion-plus holdings of U.S. dollars and buy sensitive U.S. assets such as aerospace, technology, and defense-related companies.

As a result of the unintended consequences of U.S. and European actions in financial markets, there is now the possibility that, even with this latest bailout, China could buy such sensitive assets from Europe, at fire-sale prices.

Read the full post at Foreign Affairs Magazine.

Alejandro Nadal

In 2006 Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick invented the term ‘Chimerica’ to illustrate the economic linkages that connected China and the United States. The new term summarized the fact that the world economic order was dominated by the combination of these two giants. Ferguson and Schularick also used the notion to explain the evolution of the asset price bubble in the US between 2002-2006. Their conclusion was that this new entity was an unsustainable chimera that should one day disappear. The time for this may be here.

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