Reality check here. China’s economic power is great, and getting greater every day, but it is important to note where China stands in relation to the world.
ECONOMICS, EXPORTS, AND IMPORTS
Despite being hot on the heels of Germany in striving to become the world’s third largest economy, and despite surpassing the US in April 2008 as the world’s second largest exporter, China still trails the United States in global economic heft.
People may now buy more Chinese products than those made in America; but there is an argument that much of China’s rise in exports is due to its new position as a final assembly-point for goods made elsewhere in Southeast Asia and the world. “These patterns are reflected in the Morgan Stanley estimate that 60% of the US trade deficit with China is due to imports from subsidiaries of US firms,” according to the EU’s European Commission.
And although people don’t buy as much “American” as previously, Americans still buy much of the world; purchasing $2 trillion in imports, compared to China+Hong Kong’s $1.2 trillion. Contracts and contacts with foreign countries can restrain their actions and influence their internal policies.
THE BUSINESS OF BUSINESS
Where United States companies go, and where its IMF and World Bank head, countries shake. WalMart’s GDP in 2006 was larger than that of 144 of the world’s 170+ countries’ GDPs.
China lacks an indigenous globally recognized top brand (See BusinessWeek/Interbrand’s 2007 survey); the US has 7 of the top 10. (A discussion of the top 20 Chinese brands such as Haier, and Lenovo is HERE). (IBM discusses the problem HERE on page 7.)
The US still accounts for the greatest percentage of UN funding (22% to China’s 2%, Russia’s 1%, and Germany’s 8% as of 2006. Only Japan’s 20% comes close to the US’ level of contribution.) Without US funds going in, the UN would largely be inoperable.
Additionally, the US had a 2007 GDP of over $13.7 trillion; China possessed a GDP of $3.249 trillion; The US stock of foreign FDI investments in 2006 was worth$2.3 trillion in 2006; China’s net worth of foreign FDI investment stock was $93.75 billion in 2007. France and the UK both realized values of over $1 trillion. China ranked 23rd on the CIA/WorldFactbook list list, behind Brazil. Even with Hong Kong factored in to China’s total, however, (since many Chinese businesses mainly do business with the outside world through Hong Kong; the total equals 534 billion, placing Chinese stock of foreign FDI investments in 8th place behind Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands and just ahead of Spain.) It should be noted, however, some of Hong Kong and China’s listed FDI is an overlap, since despite the countries being unified; Hong Kong investments in China are counted as FDI investments.
Of course, if China keeps developing at the fast economic clip it has set, over 10% year-on-year for the past 10 years, and at over 9% through 2009 according to the OECD, the country could come to pass the United States in GDP size around 2035.
However, it should be remembered that China is aging fast. By 2020, China’s population aged over 60 will be 16.7% (equal to that of the US’ elderly population in 2000); up from 10.1% in 2000 (AARP Bulletin, June 2008, 24). The US’ proportion will have grown to 22.8% by that time- on par with Japan’s proportion as of 2000. China’s One Child Policy, instituted in 1979, will begin to be harshly felt after around 2016- the date where the number of over-65 persons exceeds the number of under-18-year olds.
Worries about who will take care of the grandparents will put stress on China’s social welfare system to provide increasingly greater proportions of their GDP, similar to, and perhaps worse than America’s current social security and medicare crises. [A later article will examine China’s aging in detail.]
RURAL-URBAN ECONOMIC PLATEAU
China is growing fast, but with growth can come hiccups as an economy reaches a plateau. Once a majority of rural farmers have moved to the cities, as happened after over 25 years of growth in Korea and Japan, the productivity increases begin to decline. In China, the rural population is still 56%; compared to Japan’s 21%, Korea’s 19% and the United States’ 23%. (see page 61 of this UN report on Urbanization). Once China’s rural population drops to a 30%, then all the easy growth will be gone.
China’s economic weight in the world can be overstated, but it has natural limits to its growth, limits that were reached by the Asian Tiger economies in the 1990s. Remember, everyone thought Japan was going to “own America” in the 1990s; but bad investments, bank failures, a sluggish economy, and the American Internet-tech revolution combined to flummox Japan and help hoist America back into its position as the world’s economic leader.
America may not always hold the lofty position of the world’s #1 economy, but for the short term its government, its FDI, its companies, and its instruments- the World Bank and the IMF continue to matter more to the world.
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