China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

China’s International Leadership

From February 26th through the 27th I attended a symposium at the University of Texas in Austin, TX on China’s Emergence: Effects on Trade, Investment, and Regulatory Law.

Here are some thoughts on the more notable issues raised at the symposium:

Raj Bhala, a professor of law at the University of Kansas and a graduate of Harvard Law, Oxford, and the London School of Economics, spoke about China and the Doha trade round. He suggested that China’s actions at the WTO’s Doha round discussions demonstrate that China’s claims to be a global player in the highest echelon of nations are premature.

Bhala argued that China’s failure to take leadership to promote the common good with a compromise solution for the Doha round is a worrisome indicator for the future of the agreement. Without the leadership and investment of time and effort by one of the world’s most populous and economically involved countries, it may be impossible for Doha to become satisfactorily resolved.

Some tangential issues raised by Prof. Bhala’s talk were:

(Note: Professor Bhala merely raised the topics; the below research and musings are solely the work of China Comment’s point of view that has been shaped by a synthesis of Bhala’s lecture and other sources.)


1) China’s Leadership in International Forums, or lack thereof

China has sent peacekeepers to the Caribbean and to Sudan (and accounts for 2,200 of the over 115,000 UN peacekeepers); and recently it has wielded its UN Security Council veto more forcefully, but China still appears to ascribe to the policy of waiting and seeing how circumstances develop before taking a firm stand on an issue.

For long, China would not wield a UN veto, instead abstaining when it disagreed with a policy. (China has only used its veto around six times in the past thirty years.) But recently, China vetoed resolutions attempting to levy sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2008 and Myanmar in 2007.

Although China’s comments about abandoning the dollar as the world’s standard trading currency surprisingly seemed to indicate a more assertive country, any comments that the Yuan will in the near term present a significant threat to the Dollar as a reserve currency are likely idle speculations, not the least because the RMB still trades in a managed band and is not fully convertible. There does not seem to be enough being done by the Chinese, other than a few meetings with Brazilian dignitaries to suggest that the proposal has merit and is being advanced for any reason other than to distract from US policies pushing for Chinese currency revaluation– although China Comment will follow the situation. (A measured and detailed discussion of the merits of Zhou Xiaochuan’s plan is presented by Pieter Bottellier which reveals that the suggestion is FAR more nuanced than a mere call for the RMB to supplant the dollar. Jeffrey Sachs sees some merit in Zhou’s plans, as do others. Brad Setser at CFR has a good round-up of all the important people’s views on the subject.)

China also failed to take leadership on agricultural trade issues during the Doha round. It could be argued that China used India’s objections to the Doha trade rounds in 2008 as diplomatic cover to likewise reject the deal in order to avoid being criticized too harshly for their demurral.  (See some collected views from major newspapers on who caused Doha to fail, HERE and HERE). [Note: The topic of China’s actions in Doha is far too expansive to discuss here. Likewise, the topic of China’s leadership in agricultural trade is beyond the scope of this digression.]

Gao Guangsheng, Director General of the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change, did posit an interesting argument about how the world could help decrease China’s pollution. He suggested that the developed countries pay China 1% of their GDP, about $350 billion in 2008 (Because, in past eras, developed countries were allowed to pollute as much as they wanted). It is a little difficult to take Gao’s environmental-hostage-taking demands seriously.

China Comment suggests that as China becomes more confident in its economy vis-a-vis America, it will increasingly throw its heft behind solutions and ideas. But before it can do this, it will have to become an international financier and investor. China has already begun to travel down that road, with an April 2009 annoucement that it would create a $10 billion investment cooperation fund, and offer $15 billion in credit to its Southeast Asian neighbors to promote infrastructure development (also “the trade value between the ASEAN and China increased from 59.6 billion US dollars in 2003 to 171.1 billion US dollars in 2007, growing at an annual rate of 30 percent”). Additionally, China made a May 2009 agreement to lend $10 billion to Petrobras, and has entered into assorted lending contributions to African countries, from Zambia to Mozambique (for a Hydroelectric dam).

Still, China has some way to go to compare its giving to the billions that the United States and Japan and the EU donate to the UN (US donated 22% of the UN’s budget. China paid 2.03%.), the IMF (China contributes 3.72%, the United States contributes 17.09%), and other organizations and countries. With China’s billions in reserves, however, the country is flush with enough cash ($1.95 trillion in forex reserves; and over 1,000 tons of gold) that strategically spent, can make a huge difference.

2) China’s International Diplomatic Style (Its “Grand Strategy”)

China’s putative international diplomatic style is to exert a large amount of “soft power,” to not “ruffle feathers,” and to pursue a policy of peaceful development. (China Daily, December 2005) China also expresses a support for multilateralism, which is a bit strange given that China also demands to resolve natural resource disputes bilaterally rather than multilaterally, specifically in regards to the Spratly dispute (Valencia, Mark J., Jon M. Van Dyke, Noel A. Ludwig, Sharing the Resources of the South China Sea, 1997. 118.)

To this end, China has made investments in Africa and in 2007 conducted $50 billion of bilateral trade with sub-saharan Africa (up from $10 billion in 2000). (Rotberg, Robert I. China Into Africa, 2008, page 3).

China’s policy of peaceful development, however, is sometimes looked on negatively by other countries as the Chinese can be seen as global free riders, who do not assume their international obligations, who contribute too few soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions, who contribute too little money to international lending institutions, who pollute the environment, and who have for long done too little to rein in their troublesome neighbors- like North Korea.

China has attempted to involve itself in multilateral institutions for discussion in both the economic realm (ASEAN) and the security realm (the SCO) in order to gain influence in a non-threatening fashion while working with regional allies.

– This topic certainly merits more in-depth study and research in a future article.

3) China’s Ultimate View of the International Trading System

– What are China’s long term goals? Its suggestion that the dollar be replaced as a global reserve currency may indicate a desire for China to assume economic leadership, but when will that be feasible? And what sort of leadership will China take? Will they be promoters of free trade- China has signed many bilateral free trade agreements (See China Comment’s Article), or will they be less ideological, and more realist in their plans- not pushing any philosophical strategy save that of friendship with China?

Conclusion

China does not seem to have yet taken leadership in inventing a workable global trade structure, one that is harmonious for all, or even one that is China-centric. When will the confidence to create and propose such a system come? Reflecting on China’s financial philosophy, and comparing that to the invention of Western financial philosophy- it seems that ideas for world financial structure are implemented only in times of great crisis or upheaval; Post Cold War-WTO, Post WWII-Bretton Woods (which had concepts germinated during the Great Depression and WWII), Great Depression Keynesianism (which had concepts germinated after World War I and in the early years of the Great Depression), and that the ideas which eventually shape the system originate from the “great power” at the time.

It could be a chicken and the egg problem of whether economic leadership causes a country to become a great power or if only great powers can take economic leadership, but even if China has decided to avoid its chance to grab world economic leadership during the current crisis as Prof. Bhala indicates, I believe that China and its academics are consolidating ideas and preparing themselves for the next worldwide military crisis, or are awaiting the next cyclical economic crisis (c. ~2012-2015) to grab its next opportunity. And when that opportunity arises, much of the thoughts germinated by Chinese academics during this current crisis may very well become world policy.

Note: It would be useful to conduct a literature review of Chinese academic writings on world financial markets. Since time for that project currently eludes me, I will point a link here to Michael Pettis’ wonderful site on China’s Financial Markets. The Jamestown Foundation may also occasionally have some information on what China’s academics are currently thinking.

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1 June, 2009 Posted by | China Economy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The US Government and China’s Currency

From February 26th through the 27th I attended a symposium at the University of Texas in Austin, TX on China’s Emergence: Effects on Trade, Investment, and Regulatory Law.

Here are some thoughts on the more notable issues raised at the symposium:

Timothy Reif, the incoming General Counsel of the Office of the US Trade Representative, spoke as a private citizen to open the event as its keynote speaker. He expressed a desire for China to “stop manipulating” its currency and to move on currency reevaluation. Currently, China’s currency trades in a limited range of .5 percent daily against the dollar (up from .3 percent daily pre-2007).

Responding to a question, Reif acknowledged that China’s economy and the world’s economy would need time to adjust to a freely-floating regime. He suggested that China might not be prepared to freely float the RMB until perhaps 5-10 years in the future. Still, Reif speculated that if the Obama administration did not push China to take some actions toward reevaluating its currency, then the United States Congress may take aggressive action against China.

Reif’s speculation may be based on fears grounded on prior Senate actions directed against China’s currency valuation. (The following paragraph’s information is supplemental. The issues were alluded to, but not discussed in depth. The summary is provided for readers’ reference.)

In 2005, Senator Schumer introduced a bill in the Senate, S.295, that would impose an additional duty of 27.5 percent on “Chinese goods imported into the United States unless the President submits a certification to Congress that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is no longer manipulating the rate of exchange and is complying with accepted market-based trading policies.” (Thomas.Loc.Gov) That bill was not put to a vote and, even if passed, would have been non-compliant with WTO standards. However, in 2006 and 2007, Schumer and others in the Senate tried again with a bill believed to be WTO-compliant. That bill was the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2007, which was placed on the Senate legislative calendar after passing the Senate Finance committee with a 20-1 vote; but the bill ultimately did not come to a floor vote.

Ultimately, Reif did not indicate support for China to take any particular policy. He expressed no opinion on support for a wider managed band in which the currency could trade, nor for increased disclosure on which currencies are included in China’s market basket. His believes it is imperative that China’s currency appreciate, but at the time and in this venue he could not comment on exactly how the appreciation should be managed.

The most interesting question raised by Reif’s talk was to what degree will US President Obama and the Congress push against China to appreciate its currency during this economic downturn that is negatively affecting both countries. His comments seem to reflect that if America’s economy fails to improve, then domestic pressure will encourage Obama and/or Congress to take significant action to counter “imbalances” caused by China’s currency policy.

(Part III will include commentary on presentations from Raj Bhala (Law Professor at the University of Kansas), and John Greenwald (International Trade Lawyer).

9 March, 2009 Posted by | China Economy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

China Growth Is Just About Right (合适)

11/27/2008 Update Notice:

China Comment plans to return to its regular schedule of 1-2 articles a week in mid-December. Currently, in my free time, I am catching up on some China-related academic reading material. If you have suggestions of particularly insightful recently published Journal articles to peruse, I would much appreciate the advice. Thank you for reading.

—–

I agree China will only see 8-9% growth in 2009, which is less than its previous trend of double-digit economic growth; however, this slowdown will not be disastrous- in fact, it may be beneficial. Only a few months ago analysts complained how China was growing too fast, how inflation was hurting the economy, and how high commodity prices were thrashing China’s consumers, and how the government’s artificially cheap energy market was crippling China’s energy industry.

Now, commodity prices have descended, along with $65 and lower/barrel oil. And that is highly beneficial for China. If prices for steel, coal, and other commodities remained at their Summer levels, China’s prospects for stability and growth would greatly diminish. However, if in June China could be projected to grow nearly 10% y/oy despite $100+/barrel oil, it makes sense that the country- which is rapidly developing its domestic market, can readily afford domestic investments such as those included in China’s $586 billion “stimulus” plan.

China needed this decline in commodity prices, and easing demand to allow its infrastructure to catch up to its growth. On November 14th, State Grid Corp. said “it will invest an extra 2.7 billion yuan ($400 million) to expand power grids,” (IHT), which is a welcome upgrade since over the Summer, China experienced troubling shortfalls in power distribution and production. And when the infrastructure is there to improve transportation efficiency, China’s economy will be humming again with double digit growth.

In 2006, Business Week laid out the case that “An economy growing in the 8 percent to 9 percent range would be ideal,” and China’s 2008 growth target was 8 percent, “following last year’s sizzling 11.9 percent expansion.” (China Daily, June 19, 2008). Growth at that range is more sustainable for China and can prevent the country from building out too much over-capacity. In fact, the world-wide economic downturn may ultimately benefit China. If the country’s weakest-managed companies consolidate, and if the over-capacity is not too enormous (Which it very well may be in the shipping industry.) there is a chance that Chinese companies will emerge from the downturn better managed and better equipped to compete on a global scale, like Haier and Galanz did before and emerged as national champions (also; Made In China, Donald Sull).

Larger Companies… But Many Are Larger “State”-Owned Companies. (Perhaps A Problem)

An alternative view points out that the downturn has led to larger, and perhaps stronger state owned corporations at the expense of privately held ones.

Some larger state mergers, both first announced in June but only recently completed, include:

(1) Sinotrans CSC Group, combining China’s largest logistics (state-owned) and largest river shipping company (state-owned) [so much for the anti-monopoly law.] Apparently, “The merger of the two state-owned groups is a move to consolidate fragmented state-owned groups into fewer, more efficient and focused entities which can deploy their resources for developing identified business areas.” After the merger, Sinotrans CSC will become “the country’s second largest shipping and logistics conglomerate, just trailing COSCO Group.”* (See Below)

(2) Two state aircraft makers also merged.

(3) On October 27, “China Huaneng Group, one of the country’s largest power generating firms, bought a 40 percent stake in Huating Coal Group, the top coal mining company in the northwestern province of Gansu.” Laiwu Steel Corp.  and Jinan Iron and Steel Co. agreed to merge to form China’s second largest iron and steel group in February (Reuters and China Daily)

(4) On November 6th Rizhao Iron and Steel, one of China’s largest private-sector steel mills, “signed an agreement to consolidate with a state-owned rival.” (Reuters). Rizhao’s yearly output is 8 million tons of steel (CER); comparatively, the state giant Baosteel, which is being strengthened by the Central Government and is aggressively merging and acquiring assets, produced “28 million tons” in 2007 and hopes to raise its capacity to 80m tons by 2012 (FT, Nov 6, 2008). In consideration of the Laiwu and Baosteel mergers, it will be difficult for private manufacturers to grow fast enough to compete.

Jobs? Production? Trade?

The Canton trade fair was sparsely attended; and some workers’ wages have been cut in half, which will at best constrain spending and prevent China’s domestic economy from picking up the slack in growth from its export sector. At worst, this could lead to stability challenges and tax revolts as workers are laid off, then return to the provinces after find it increasingly difficult to gain and hold jobs.

Conclusion: A Strong China

Although China faces some challenges, the ameliorating effects of lower commodity prices, slowing inflation, economic reform, slash of lending rates from 6.93% to 6.66%, and some pro-export government growth policies such as “increasing tax rebates “on 3,770 export items, or 27.9 percent of all products shipped by China. [by December]” will continue to sustain China’s growing success.

Side Note on Western Manufacturing:

China’s tax rebates on export items, which were recently phased out, but which have now returned, may become a challenging issue in Europe and America, since the rebates will, along with alleged “currency manipulation,” undercut Western manufacturers’ prices. Coupled with cheaper oil and transportation costs, this will lead to a big discount and growth opportunity for Chinese exporters.

In response, Western countries may turn more protectionist, or else (barring a rise in energy or transportation costs from China), there will be another round of Western manufacturing demise.

Additional Information

* “Sinotrans posted operating revenue of RMB 57.7 billion in 2007, and aims to boost the figure to somewhere between RMB 80 billion and RMB 100 billion by 2010. Changjiang National Shipping focuses on river shipping. It has total assets of RMB 41.2 billion and a staff of 70,000, as of end 2007.” (SeaTrade Asia Online).

17 November, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , | 1 Comment

Bandwagoning About China’s Economy

In the wake of the global economic downturn, China’s economy is growing slower; “only” 9 to 9.9% on the year (Reuters), and perhaps expanding at 8 to 9% in 2009 (China Daily, 11/8/08). Some experts warn that China needs to grow between 6 to 8% to ensure stability and sufficient employment for newly-emerging workers. These worries led to a spate of articles spouting warnings about China’s 2009 economic prospects. Announcement of China’s “financial stimulus” package led to a brief hope-driven turnaround in investor opinion, but China alone cannot lead worldwide economic recovery (other analysts agree). Still, China’s economic composition allows it to weather this recession quite well.

The mass media seems at times to get into “bandwagons” of “fad” commentary that lose sight of the big picture behind issues. For purposes of perspective, I present a cautionary review of some now-ironic predictions and “dire warnings” that were made from November 2007 until today.

(Later, I hope to present a case for what circumstances will allow for continued Chinese economic viability.)

Inflation versus Deflation.

There always seems to be another crisis looming, and yet, China sustains its economic growth. This summer, China was buffeted by increasing energy prices, which contributed to rising prices for food and other commodities. Now, China has seen six consecutive months of declines in its inflation rate and China fears deflation may arrive around February 2009 (The Guardian). China last dealt with deflation in 2002, shortly after China joined the WTO (in late 2001); interestingly, that deflationary experience was similarly precipitated by domestic overcapacity.

Remember back in March 2008 when “Premier Wen Jiabao said tackling inflation was ‘the biggest concern of the people'”, and the BBC commented that “[t]his is a serious concern for the government, which fears higher food prices could trigger social unrest.” (BBC, March 11, 2008).

Deflation may harm China’s growth, but it may also correct a near-overheated inflationary market that was otherwise in danger of bursting. In 2002 the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce warned of deflation, but also noted its benefits (I emphasized the most pertinent part); “[a]lthough deflation can give consumers greater spending power, it ultimately gives way to weaker demand as consumer confidence begins to erode [because prices keep falling]… On the flip side, deflation can help increase consumers’ spending power, raise the standard of living of China’s poorer residents, and weed out weaker companies…Mild deflation in China has so far kept the economy from going into recession, and the economy has enjoyed steady growth for the whole of 2002.”

Both inflation and deflation can harm economies, given other surrounding factors, but when making “bets” on China’s future, this current situation should serve as a reminder to draft out a long term plan. In February and March, headline articles appeared not to see this slowdown coming. Instead, they were concerned that inflation driven by rising commodity prices would lead to rising prices for exported Chinese goods, and dire domestic consequences.

A Basically Strong China Supports the World versus A Structurally Weak China Burdens the World.

Just four months ago, Albert Keidel’s piece on China’s coming economic rise was touted as a harbinger of a Chinese Century of overpowering strength. Although people who study China know China currently lacks the economic heft to single-handedly support the world economy, TV newscasters, the BBC, and others complained about how China’s demand was either the main or a significant factor for driving up oil prices. Although China’s rising demand certainly contributed to some of the climb to $150/barrel oil, no one country’s sole future expected supply and demand caused oil’s massive price fluctuations from $60 to $150.

Importantly, China’s decreases in demand for certain commodities came after American consumers cut back on their mileage driven and energy utilized (June 2008 saw the biggest decline in US oil utilization in 17 years). In China, however, imported oil demand was up 17.3 percent in the first five months of 2008 [and was up 3 percent in June] despite prices rising 66.9 percent over the previous year (Xinhua, June 2008). China’s imported oil demand decreased 7 percent in July, but then gained 11.5 percent in August, according to Bloomberg.

Additionally, bulls who bet that oil would become scarce and that demand would remain high were confronted with Western public policy pushes toward financing and supporting recovery of additional energy sources.

When considering China’s current affect on the world, it is important to remember that although China is growing, “China accounts for no more than 11% of global GDP, against 21% for the U.S, on a purchasing power parity basis.  [5% for China and 28% on non-PPP numbers] Its domestic market is only one-eighth of the size of the U.S.’s at $1.2 trillion (2007 consumption). (Forbes). China can be a guiding factor, one of many in the growth of the world economy, so its domestic policies will likely neither harm, nor hurt the global economy much more than Japanese domestic economic policies (which admittedly is no small effect). But China alone cannot shake the world… yet.

Bonus

* A paper delivered at the Peterson Institute on April 3, 2008 argues that to combat inflation “the world economy really needs what is now forecast for 2008/2009: a significant slowing of economic growth.” It’s good to remember that some people thought this recession could help the economy avoid a larger future financial disaster. Could America’s economic implosion actually have saved China from its own domestic inflationary and energy-price-driven meltdown? It is an interesting point to consider.

To avoid over-capacity, economies need to grow at measured rates. 20 years of growth at 6% is arguably better than 5 years at 10%, 2 years at 5%, then 4 years at 9%, then 3 years at 4% since steady growth rates guarantee a modicum of both stability and job security.

* To allow another view to express itself; perhaps China caused part of the fluctuation in demand for some commodities. J. Christoph Amberger at Seeking Alpha warned in April 2008 that slowing growth in textile and light industry export toward Western countries would contribute to Chinese economic weakness post-Olympics.

12 November, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , | Leave a comment

The Future of China Quality

“According to the Xinhua news agency, in the first seven months of this year, 3631 small scale enterprises producing toys mainly for the US market have closed down due to a decline in the demand for China-made toys from the US. These enterprises… constituted 52.7 per cent of all toy-making companies in China— Source “South China Morning Post” and AFP.” (South Asia Analysis Group)

China’s 2007 lead toy scandal, its 2007 diethleyne glycol poisoning scandal, and its melamine in milk scandal all highlight problems of accountability in China’s sourcing system, as well as the dangers of unsupervised small (and often-times unbranded and therefore often unaccountable) producers whose goods are purchased by players higher up the value chain.

The fallout from these negative news stories might have some chance of encouraging greater CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the industries affected, but in a decelerating economy, it seems unlikely that Chinese companies will choose increased quality and differentiation practices rather than cost-focused strategies.

However, if the companies do have cash, they might see benefits in investing in something other than labor which has become more protected and expensive due to China’s 2008 Labor Law. Supply-chain management, RFID tagging, and greater computerization and modernization of systems can do much to raise accountability that retailers, such as Wal-Mart are increasingly demanding.

What does China Need to Ensure Quality?

* “No law places clear responsibility on food enterprises for the production of safe products,” according to a UN Report (AP, Oct 08). “[R]esponsibility for food and drug safety [as of 2007] involve[d] as many as 17 government agencies, ranging from the Ministry of Health, which sets hygienic standards, to the Public Security Bureau, which has power to investigate criminal cases” (NYT, July 07).

* Stronger oversight and more accountable expert-overseers. Increased cadre-responsibility.

* Allowing less restricted news reporting on real scandals. Permit people to spread information in an uncensored way about which foods are damaged and which are not.

* China could benefit from better tort laws that allow people to directly sue companies for damages. This will reduce the likelihood that a “big brother” government bureaucrat protects and enables some exploitative factory owners who are good friends of people in the overseeing administrative agencies (See Note 1).

* Consolidation in factories and in agriculture. The new Farm Land-Use Law might encourage and promote this chance for Chinese producers to move along the value curve and achieve greater economies of scale. The average Chinese farm has less than two acres (WSJ), and in total there are about 200 million farms (NYT). “China [also] has around 450,000 registered enterprises engaged in food production and processing but most — about 350,000 — employ just 10 people or fewer.” (AP and NYT).

* Greater business investment in technology and modern agricultural and manufacturing practices. The big players, the Lenovos, Haiers, Galanzes, etc. already recognized the value of modernity. It’s time other less-modern economic sectors caught up.

Mixed Results With A Slowing Economy

China’s economic growth is slowing to around 9-9.5% this year, and its economy may only grow at 8.5% next year; however, if it can achieve that growth, the country will continue to have vibrant industries. The more efficient and better capitalized export manufacturers will survive in a low-priced commodity world (less than $100 oil) since the China Price continues to be relatively low despite imposition of new labor and environmental laws.

Will the better capitalized and managed export manufacturers take this downturn as a chance to invest in capital improvements to increase quality and efficiency? Will they drive down costs not by racing to the bottom and paying workers less, but by hiring fewer workers and improving the manufacturing process?

Sometimes there is great pressure for companies, especially state owned companies to value employment over efficiency. However, the January 2008 labor law, which makes it more difficult to lay off workers, may encourage companies to draft strategic plans based around equipment rather than manpower.

It is difficult to generalize about the overall Chinese manufacturing economy, but previously when market forces encouraged chaff to be weeded due to oversupply, as documented in Donald Sull’s excellent book “Made in China,” more quality-conscious manufacturers emerged.

Sull described how the white goods giants Haier and Galanz emerged from a crowded field of hundreds of low-quality manufacturers back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Both decided their product strategy would be differentiation. They made higher-end, defect-free goods and improved their production processes.

Through investment and consolidation with some well-positioned competitors during supply-glut-driven downturns, both companies gained success and dominated their markets. The lesson learned by them, and taught to other Chinese entrepreneurs through books and lectures is clear; quality sells, and accountability and branding ultimately leads to greater success than anonymity and “selfish-off-the-books, off-the-records and under-the-table economic safety”.

Quality appears to be the route to success for Chinese businesses. China Journal pointed out on Oct. 27th that “in marked contrast to the firm’s survey of American consumers, who ranked price as a top concern, Chinese consumers place greater emphasis on service,” perhaps because they have been “burned” too many times before by faulty merchandise. American consumers can afford to value price over quality because American goods (arguably) are safe if they are sold– in China that is not always the case. With discretionary income comes greater sophistication and value of “quality” over “cheapness.”

While in China (before the melamine issue blew up), I attended a lecture and spoke with Xu Erming, a deputy dean at Renmin in which he discussed  Chinese dairy manufacturing, consolidation, and improvement of quality milking procedures. Despite the recent scandals, it is important to realize that milk’s quality and quantity ballooned exponentially since the late 1990s when cows were not even healthy enough to be milked en-masse. Product pipeline oversight today is much better than even five years ago. With time, consolidation, investment in capital expenditures for tracking the product, and increasing sophistication (agricultural and business-wise), China’s industries will increasingly see quality improvements.

Successful Chinese industries will move down the path of accountability simply to survive as labor costs increase. The “easy” and “dumb” money in China has already been made; real Chinese entrepreneurs realize the need for quality and will increasingly work toward increasing it.

Are Western Companies Also At Fault?

Blame for poor quality does not rest on Chinese manufacturers alone, so it is important to examine more globalized trends that can help China’s product quality improve. As foreign purchasers realize they need to spend more money to get quality in order to avoid recalls and negative publicity, they will create a system (as Wal-Mart has) where they do not encourage producers to indiscriminately cut costs.

Or, poor quality toy makers will depart for elsewhere in Southeast Asia where labor regulations may not be as stringent. Still, it is likely many toy manufacturers will remain in China since elsewhere there are more severe difficulties in stability, resources, economies of scale, and  infrastructure.

Conclusion

Quality in China’s industries depends on foreign companies’ oversight as well as internal regulatory measures. Scandals hopefully will result in less cost-cutting since few companies want the negative publicity and customer shyness that accompanies scandals.

The ultimate future of China’s quality is murky. A sudden policy turnaround favoring uncensored news reporting seems unlikely, and development of class-action tort damages is even less likely since to allow mass lawsuits would be much too similar to Beijing tacitly approving “mass incidents” which challenge the government’s legitimacy.

However, consolidation of industries, self-regulation by foreign purchasers, and greater funding and improvement of government regulation does seem likely in the next one to two years.

Ultimately, systemic problems affecting Chinese quality will continue to plague certain low-margin parts of China’s industries, but China appears to be taking practical steps to resolving shortfalls in its quality-control systems.

Extra

Note 1:  I agree that the “Chinese” solution of the government doling out compensation can rectify some damage. However, if the “Chinese characteristics” of a society are to be respected at the same time Justice is ensured, the government needs to rectify bureaucracies and hold people accountable to encourage others to proactively comply with regulations.

Mere ex-post administrative oversight may catch some culprits, but could just as easily protect other culprits who have better connections, better guanxi, better friends in the regulatory system.

Additionally, bringing government-pursued cases into the sunshine of public oversight will do much to ensure that the Chinese people can see justice is being pursued and that the Party truly cares about their interests.

27 October, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Environment/Health, China Law | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Happening With China’s Economy?

Nuances and questions abound in discussion of China’s economy and where it is headed. Is it due for a fall? Will exports decline? What about currency reevaluation? What about inflation?

Here, I collect and comment on some recent numbers and articles dealing with China’s economic situation: 

Useful Numbers

Budget Surplus
“China’s budget surplus for 2008, to July 31, was more than $200 billion, up by 33 per cent year on year in the first half” (Callick, The Australian).

Consumer Spending / Domestic Consumption
“Retail sales, the main measure of Chinese consumer spending, grew by 23.2% year on year in August, slightly less than July’s 23.3% but substantially better than last August’s 17.1%” (Pettis).

Retail sales rose to $128.1 billion in August (Oliver). Interestingly, the Olympics did not appear to provide much of a “bump” in August retail sales.

This leads me to conclude that although industrial construction might rise post-Olympics, consumer spending will likely actually decrease for September as “belts tighten” and reasons for splurging diminish. Although more employees will be “back on the job,” they will not necessarily have extra discretionary income to spend. By October or November, the “Olympic bump” of disruption should cease affecting China’s consumer spending numbers, and it is wholly possible that they will trend downward.

Economic Growth
In its Asian Development Outlook 2008 Update, the Asian Development Bank “anticipated China’s gross domestic product (GDP) would grow 10 percent this year, consistent with its April forecast. However, it lowered China’s 2009 predicted growth rate from 9.8 to 9.5 percent… In the first half of this year, the nation’s GDP expanded 10.4 percent, 1.8 percentage points slower than the same period last year” (China Daily).

“Official loan growth, if adjusted to strip out the effects of inflation, expanded a modest 4% in August, according to Standard Chartered estimates” (Oliver).

“Effective Tuesday [September 16], the People’s Bank of China lowered by 0.27 percent, to 7.2 percent, the regulated benchmark rate that commercial banks may charge for one-year loans to business borrowers with strong credit histories… The central bank also lowered by a full percentage point the share of assets that small and medium-size banks must deposit as reserves with the central bank, effective Sept. 25. The so-called reserve requirement ratio is an important tool in China for limiting how much money can be lent by commercial banks” (New York Times).

Export Growth
“Export growth also slowed, to 21.1% year on year in August from 26.9% in July. That left the trade surplus for August at a record $28.7 billion – a number which will help ensure that China’s money supply will continue expanding sharply in August” (Pettis).

“If the “Chinese content” of China’s goods export sector is around 50% (Vox), goods exports account for between 17 and 18% of China’s GDP. Exports of goods and services account for about 12% of US GDP” (Setser.)

Setser’s numbers imply China is susceptible to a global downturn and decline in its export sector. To offset a decline in national growth, domestic spending will need to rise significantly if export demand suddenly drops off. Between rising oil prices, costs of doing business in China, and a developing worldwide economic malaise, it appears China will see some significant declines in export growth from September through October.

FDI Into China
“Foreign direct investment into China rose 41.6 percent in the first eight months of the year compared with the same period last year, Beijing said.

“Overseas companies invested 67.7 billion dollars in the period from January to August, the commerce ministry said in a brief statement on its website” (AFP).

This is an intriguing trend, when contrasted against a couple of alarmist mainstream media articles discussing business flight from China to elsewhere. (At the time of those discussions, China Law Blog, myself, and Business Week among others, notably demurred.)

Import Growth
“Imports grew last month at a 23.1% in August, down sharply from 33.7% in July” (Pettis).

Post-Olympics, Import growth is likely to resume as demand for internationally-acquired resources used in construction will increase.

Industrial Growth
“Industrial output grew by 12.8% year on year in August, versus 14.7% in July, and 17.5% last August. There was weakness in almost every sector, with iron and automobile production actually contracting versus one year ago” (Pettis).

“China’s industrial production expanded at its weakest pace in six years in August, reflecting factory shutdowns for the Olympics and cooling overseas demand for consumer goods … Merrill Lynch estimates the factory shutdowns, combined weaker demand for steel, cement other materials resulting from the construction freeze, knocked 2.5 percentage points off headline growth. [They] expect a post-Olympic rebound in industrial production growth [based] on both pent-up demand and the post-quake reconstruction.” (Oliver, MarketWatch).

Inflation
“CPI inflation for August, was surprisingly good, coming in at 4.9% year on year, which is well below July’s 6.3% and also well below market expectations of around 5.5%. The decline in CPI inflation was driven mostly by declining prices in pork and vegetable oil… All the decline in CPI occurred in the food sector – non food inflation was steady at 2.1%.” (Pettis).

“The [Asian Development Bank] bank also lifts its inflation projection for next year to 5.5 percent from [an April estimate of] 5 percent… citing possible price hikes of fuel and electricity, which may lead to higher production costs being passed onto consumers” (China Daily).

Monetary Policy
“Commenting on the moves, Zhuang Jian, senior economist at the ADB, said the rate cuts indicate the government’s tightening monetary policy is beginning to relax. He also expected more loosening policies to come either later this year or in 2009 in order to ensure the sustainable growth of the economy” (China Daily).

RMB Reevaluation and China’s Foreign Investments
“From June 2007 to June 2008, the foreign assets of China’s central bank increased by $681b” (Setser).

“If China’s total foreign holdings rise to $3 trillion by the end of 2009—an increase that is consistent with China’s current pace of foreign asset accumulation—a 33 percent RMB appreciation against the dollar and euro would produce a $1 trillion financial loss” (Setser, 30).

Value-Added To Exports & Results for Currency Reevaluation
According to a new way of evaluating value-added to products; “the share of foreign value added in Chinese manufactured exports is at about 50%… which is much lower than most other countries. This implies that a given exchange rate appreciation is likely to have a smaller effect on China’s trade surplus than for other countries. The domestic content share is particularly low in sectors that are likely to be labelled as sophisticated, such as electronic devices and telecommunication equipments. This means the competitive pressure China’s exports place on skilled workers in high-income countries is smaller than suggested by a simple-minded look at the raw trade data.” (Vox) (These assertions are well worth a detailed examination at a later time.)

Useful Information

Are Asian Central Banks Still Behind the Inflation Curve?
Arpitha Bykere and Mikka Pineda, Asia EconoMonitor
An Overview of Asian Monetary Policy, with tables, charts, and analysis.

CPI inflation was unexpectedly low, the trade surplus unexpectedly high
Michael Pettis, China Financial Marekts
Something is odd regarding China’s recent inflation numbers, Professor Michael Pettis (of Beida) argues.

How much of Chinese exports is really made in China?
Robert B. Koopman, Zhi Wang, Shang-Jin Wei
A new formula calculates the value-added content of China’s export-manufacturing. It finds the domestic value-added content to be 50%.

Fire and Ice
Michael Pettis, China Financial Markets
China’s falling stock market, declining increases in industrial production, and future economic challenges.

As Economy Slows, China Eases Monetary Policy
Keith Bradsher, The New York Times
An overview of China’s latest monetary policy developments.

22 September, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , | 1 Comment

China’s Free Trade

The Capitalistic country controlled by a Communist Party has free trade agreements with at least nine countries. Below, I give an updated view on current and potential trade agreements.

A more in-depth analysis of cost-benefits of said agreements will have to wait until a later post. If you can’t wait, check out W. McKibbin and Tingsong Jiang and the Brooking’s Institution who did a good study of the impact of current and future trade agreements. Their article was a basis for this one.

ASEAN
* Agreement on goods signed on 29 November 2004 for implementation in Jan 2005;
* Agreement on services signed in 14 January 2007 for implementation in July 2007;
* Agreement on investment under negotiation (McKibbin and Jiang believe this may be concluded by 2010. 10.) However, a more recent article (August 27, 2008) postulates the agreement may be signed as early as December 2008. 
* Phase-Out period for normal items ends for China and original ASEAN countries by 2010.
* Phase-Out period for sensitive items ends for China and original ASEAN countries by 2013.
* Phase-Out period for normal items ends for the newer ASEAN members (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam.) by 2015.
* Phase-Out period for sensitive items ends for the newer ASEAN members (CLMV) by 2020.

* “According to ASEAN statistics, the trade value between the ASEAN and China increased from 59.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2003 to 171.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2007, growing at an annual rate of 30 percent” (Source).

Australia Under Negotiation
* The tenth round of negotiations was held on 22-26 October 2007.

Chile
* Agreement on goods was signed on 18 November 2005 “immediately removing all tariffs on 92 percent of Chile’s exports.”
* Agreement on services signed on April 13, 2008.
* Agreement on services goes into effect on January 1, 2009.
* “[B]ilateral trade soared 65 percent year on year to 14.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2007, up from the 23.9 annual growth of 2006. Last year, Chilean exports to China surged 79 percent to 10.3 billion U.S. dollars, boosted by copper and grape wine trade. Meanwhile, Chinese exports to Chile jumped 42 percent to 4.4 billion U.S. dollars with strong growth in computers and communications technology, electronic products and automobiles” (Xinhua).

East Asian Free Trade Area (of ASEAN+China, Japan, Korea) Under Negotiation
* The Brookings report believes this may be concluded for goods by 2015. 11.
* A services agreement may follow in 2017.
* An investments agreement may follow in 2020.

FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific) Under Negotiation
* The Brookings Report (11) believes that this may happen for goods by 2025.
* Services by 2027
* Investments by 2030.

Gulf Cooperation Council Under Negotiation
* The third round of negotiations was held on 17-18 January 2006.
* A fourth negotiation meeting was held on 19-22 July 2006.

Iceland Under Negotiation
* A third round of negotiations was held on 17-18 October 2007.
* Fourth round: March 2008

New Zealand
* Agreement was signed on 7 April 2008. [Two-way trade between China and New Zealand currently is worth more than $6.1 billion a year, with Chinese exports making up about 75 percent. (IHT)]
* On October 1st, 2008 “tariffs on New Zealand’s exports to China that are currently set at 5 percent or less will be cut to zero” (IHT).
* “31 percent of New Zealand’s exports to China slated for tariff-free status by 2013” (IHT).
* Dairy and almost all (96%) of NZ’s exports should be tariff-free by 2019.

Pakistan
* Agreement on goods signed on 24 November 2006;
* Went into effect on July 1, 2007 (People’s Daily).
* 36 percent of products will be tariff free by 2010.
* 85 percent of products will be tariff free by 2013, and Phase II begins, with a goal to reduce tariffs on 90 percent of goods.
* Agreement on services under negotiation (Brookings).
* The current agreement already covers investments (People’s Daily).
* “China-Pakistan trade volume exceeded 4.3 billion dollars in 2005, representing a year-on-year increase of 39 percent. The officials said the trade deal could triple bilateral trade to 15 billion dollars within five years” (People’s Daily).

Peru Under Negotiation
* The 2007 Joint-Feasibility Study.
* The second round of negotiations held on 3-7 March 2008.
* A third round was held in May 2008.
* The fifth round was held at the end of August 2008.
* On August 26th, Peru’s foreign minister of trade and tourism stated a belief that negotiations could conclude by November, 2008.

Singapore
* The first round negotiation was held on 26 October 2006. There were a total of eight rounds.
* On September 4, 2008, negotiations for a full free trade agreement including goods, services, and investments were concluded. The agreement should be signed by October 2008 (International Herald Tribune). [Bilateral trade between Singapore and China  was $63.83 billion, in 2007.]

Southern African Customs Union Under Negotiation
* Negotiation started on 29 June 2004

Feasibility Study
Costa Rica
* The 1st Joint Meeting was held on 9-11 January 2008

India
* The feasibility study on Regional Trade Agreement (RTA) concluded at the sixth meeting on 21-22 October 2007

Norway
* A feasibility study concluded on 13 December 2007

South Korea
* The 4th Joint Meeting was held on 18-20 Febuary 2008.
* December 2007 China Daily article.

Switzerland
* In July 2007, the countries agreed to study the feasibility of a free trade agreement.

From: Page 7 of Brookings report; originally People’s Republic of China Ministry of Commerce news releases; also edited and updated with data inter alia from the Brookings report and from various news sources from around the Internet.

Potential Free Trade Timeline
October 2008 – “[T]ariffs on New Zealand’s exports to China that are currently set at 5 percent or less will be cut to zero” (IHT).
October 2008 – Singapore-China Free Trade Agreement signed.
November 2008 – Peru-China Free Trade Agreement signed.
December 2008 – Agreement on investment with ASEAN signed.
January 2009 – Agreement on services with Chile goes into effect.
2010 – Phase-Out period for normal items ends for China and original ASEAN countries.
2010 – Pakistan: 36 percent of products will be tariff free.
2013 – Pakistan: 85 percent of products will be tariff free.
2013 – Phase-Out period for sensitive items ends for China and original ASEAN countries.
2013 – “31 percent of New Zealand’s exports to China slated for tariff-free status″ (IHT).
2015 – Phase-Out period for normal items ends for the newer ASEAN members (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam.)
2015 – ASEAN single-market finally established.
2015 – East Asian Free Trade Area (ASEAN, Korea, China, Japan) for goods.
2017 – East Asian Free Trade Area (ASEAN, Korea, China, Japan) for services.
2019 – Dairy and almost all (96%) of New Zealand’s exports should be tariff-free by 2019.
2020 – East Asian Free Trade Area (ASEAN, Korea, China, Japan) for investments.
2020 – Phase-Out period for sensitive items ends for the newer ASEAN members (CLMV).
2025 – FTAAP for goods.
2027 – FTAAP for services.
2030 – FTAAP for investments.

8 September, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , | 4 Comments

Post-Olympic Pieces

Here’s a couple of interesting “Olympic-Aftermath” posts from around the internet, and below is some value-added analysis:

* The Olympic Sponsor – Biggest Winners and Biggest Losers
All Roads Lead to China
Discusses how sponsors like Lenovo and GE may have benefitted from their Olympic sponsorship.

*Yeah! I’m a Llama Again
Silk Road International
Great Olympic-review/overview piece with even better links that are worth consideration. (Such as this harsh piece by TimesOnline (Some of its assertions might be treated with a grain of salt though- and it should be noted that the British Times appears to have an almost pathological dislike for China’s regime), and a thoughful piece in the Washington Post.)

* The Great Convergence?
The China Beat
Compares similarities between China and the United States and coverage of the Olympics.

* Making sense of what comes after the Olympics
Michael Pettis at Asia EconoMonitor
Discusses China’s still-weak stock-market, declining growth in expansion of tax revenues, and speculates on near-future performance of the Chinese economy.

*Rio Tinto predicts post-games boom
By Rebecca Bream and Chris Flood; Financial Times
The Financial Times reports how Rio Tinto believes commodity prices will rise again, amid a post-Olympics construction boom as transportation/supply chains are untangled, factories are reopened, and trucks get back onto the streets… This would probably happen starting sometime around mid-September after the Paralympic Games are finished.

Olympic Pollution: Comparisons
chinacomment
If you wanted to compare pollution pre-Olympics, or to compare Beijing’s pollution to Olympics’ pollution in Athens, or Barcelona, this is an excellent resource.

Wireless Data Roaming Wins Gold During Beijing Olympics
MarketWatch
Ever wondered how much information was sent over roaming phones during the Beijing Games? Now you can become enlightened. “[A] surge in wireless data roaming traffic exceeding 40 percent over the same period of days the month before. This increase in roaming traffic resulted in more than 332 GB of data being exchanged between 225 mobile operators in 106 different countries on the Aicent network. This increase in wireless data roaming is the equivalent of the content in books stored on nearly two miles of shelves.”

Conclusion… What Does This Mean?
Links without analysis are only of marginal use, so here’s some value-added content.

* Rio Tinto is probably right to believe demand in China for metals and resources will continue, despite a weak international economy. And if other countries’ demand for resources drops, China has the cash to step in and bargain-shop.

* A weaker international economy will harm China’s export-market, but the PRC appears willing to focus policy on expanding economic growth. Brad Setser of the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) persuasively argues that China’s exports have not yet been significantly harmed by the global slowdown.

It appears RMB appreciation will slow if the Chinese continue to prop up their exporters. Michael Pettis, who specializes on Chinese Financial Markets and teaches at Beida in Beijing, believes that China might also sustain high inflation in order to support its exporters.

It is surprising that exporters are still maintaining at least a limited amount of strength, considering that the new Labor Law requires employers to pay workers more and treat them better, and considering that new tax provisions do away with some benefits for foreign companies based in China. A fuller examination of China’s economic future and the consequences of its economic policies definitely merits more in-depth future analysis that will certainly take a good deal of time to properly treat.

* And The China Beat reminds us that in many ways, China and the United States have similarities… things that often go unnoticed when the “China Threat Theory” is promulgated, or China’s collectivist culture is over-stressed, or when commentators focus on China’s “communism.”

* And, to close, I welcome your thoughts on where China’s economy is going post-Olympics or if the Olympics really changed anything about China in the long run. (Bonus Article: “Orville Schell discusses the future of Chinese nationalism and Olympic changes. (Written Before the Games)”) Thanks for reading.

29 August, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Weak China?

In the Washington Post, John Pomfret, former WP Beijing Bureau Chief and author of Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of New China (2006), argues that China is not going to become a superpower. His argument is a bit misleading, however. He demonstrates that China faces challenges, but he admits China’s GDP will outpace the United States’ in size. 

Pomfret’s four challenges, while intriguing, appear to be the wrong challenges to address. Despite them, China will still become a superpower. In this article, I explain why his challenges are not the most apt. Then I suggest four different challenges to China’s growth.

Pomfret calls attention to four challenges; “dire demographics, an overrated economy, an environment under siege and an ideology that doesn’t travel well.”

Dire Demographics… But Room for Expansion

Pomfret successfully argues “that as the working-age population shrinks, labor costs will rise.” In China’s coastal provinces, labor costs have already risen, partially due to reduced migrant labor flows. It is also true that after 2013, China’s labor force will peak at 900 million and subsequently the elderly will be more numerous than adolescents and children. And there are nearly 119 males born for every 100 females, which will create tensions.  

But, it is also true that despite decades of posting productivity gains, China is still underutilizing its human capital. Its workers have not yet realized the full potential of productivity gains that workers in other countries have realized- which means that China still has a vast, untapped potential for growth.

Chinese labor productivity has grown from (in 1995 RMB values) around 5000RMB per worker in 1979 to 21,500 RMB per worker in 2005 (or roughly $3100). (Holz, 166 and He & Kuijs, 6) And productivity grew at around 8.7% per year from 2000-2006. (The OECD defines Labor Productivity as GDP per hour worked) The US Labor Productivity value-added per worker is currently ranked sixth in the world by the OECD, behind Luxemborg, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Belgium.) 

Japan and South Korea, which similar to China started at a low base for productivity, are currently at 71% and 41% of US productivity ratings. Regrettably, it appears these OECD numbers have not been adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity). However, the point remains, South Korea had low productivity and a majority of citizens employed in agriculture back in the 1960s. Now, only 7.5% of its population works in agriculture.

China still has up to 43% of its population employed in agriculture (due to the nearly 200 million migrant workers who retain rural residencies, the number is probably more like 30%, but that is still an overly-high number). This underutilization and underemployment of workers demonstrates China still has much room to grow, and many more productivity gains to realize– its rise is not yet finished.

Overrated Economy… But Massive Purchasing Power

Pomfret rightfully criticises Keidel at the Carnegie Foundation for a July 2008 extremely pro-China growth article. Keidel assumes China will maintain over 7% yearly growth rates through 2030. These estimates may prove to be overly optimistic. However, China’s economy is still deregulating and expanding. It may not grow as fast as Keidel assumes, but barring massive inflation and energy shortages, the sheer amount of human capital and potential for development will allow it to expand at a healthy clip.

Pomfret wanders a bit into strange territory when he argues China cannot become a superpower simply because GDP per capita is so low. But why does low per capita GDP preclude development of a strong country? If GDP is high enough, China can finance a modern military, and its state-owned businesses can purchase overseas energy and mineral resources.

With even modest GDP growth, the domestic market can serve a middle class of perhaps 400 million (or 100 million, depending on the estimate), which is larger than almost all Western countries’ populations! If China is a giant in terms of worldwide trade, it can have greater influence in trade contracts with countries like Brazil and the Central Asian nations, marginalizing the United States.

Note: In later articles I hope to explore China’s middle class, its productivity in detail, and how China’s aging might effect domestic policies. I would love to go into greater detail on these items here, but then this post might become thesis-length. 

Environmental Problems… A Legitimate Challenge; But It Can Be Overcome

Pomfret is correct that China faces environmental problems. Elizabeth Economy and other scholars have detailed this in numerous books and articles. And environmental pressures can cause societies to implode, as Jared Diamond famously argued in Collapse.

However, China may be able to make fighting its pollution an opportunity for societal and technological development. China could allow NGOs and private groups greater chances to challenge local development and expose corrupt practices. Or, China could continue to suppress cross-provincial border NGOs, and could fail to develop technological innovation. The future of China and its environment could be dire, as Pomfret believes, or it could be positive should Chinese invent innovative environmental solutions (See Prospects for China’s NGOs for more info on Chinese NGOs).

Bankrupt Ideology… But The Country Is Just Now Developing Its “Mission” (See Maslow’s Hierarchy)

Pomfret’s argument about China’s ideological intellectual bankruptcy is interesting. He makes a good point about how China’s one-party system can stifle innovative thoughts. But China is still developing its mission, and there may come a time when China’s ideology can be successfully exported. (Please see the last section of my article on Maslow’s Hierarchy).

In contrast to the United States’ private think tank minds, and European NGO leaders, China has yet to produce many world-respected political theorists to propogate its philosophy. Its famous discursive-thinking thinkers and personalities; Wu Jinglian (economist), Bao Tong (politician), and Gao Xingjian (author) are either retired, marginalized, or living in exile.

(Note: This is not to say China lacks independent thinkers; CASS (The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) has been known for producing innovative thought. And University scholars such as Shi Yinhong have done innovative work in regards to foreign policy. But in one example of stifling creativity, the State closed the innovative Journal “Strategy and Management” when they felt its authors strayed too far from the party line; Other thinkers contribute valuable intra-China thoughts on nationalism and how China should relate to the rest of the world, but Chinese views on how the world should be ordered internationally are less often elucidated, and have less of a world-wide impact. China has also long taken a non-voting and non-leadership position on the UN Security Council.)

Conclusion

Pomfret is right, China faces challenges. But these challenges are not dire enough to hobble its rise to global superpower status. Only the environmental challenge appears to be a potentially growth-derailing problem, and it could yet be overcome.

In response to Pomfret’s proposal, I suggest a few different problems China is facing that may delay its rise. To succeed as a superpower, China most needs to ensure energy supplies, tame inflation, deal with dissent/protests/petitioning by instituting a rule of law, and provide social services. (If the last two items are combined, then I would list Pomfret’s “environmental” challenge).

I hope to explore these problems in a future article and would like to hear your opinions on what four problems you believe are most important for China to overcome.

(My further response, based on your feedback, is here).

30 July, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Out of China

Canon, Nissan, and Germany’s Steiff Toys are either forgoing China expansions or leaving China to produce in other countries. Other companies are leaving China to find cheaper, less regulated places to manufacture. RMB appreciation, costs of training, the new labor contract law, end of some preferential tax breaks for foreigners, inflation, visa regulations, and energy rationing have made China a little less attractive for foreign businesses and manufacturing. But where will these companies go, and why? Even some of the so-called drawbacks to doing business might be good for the long term. Below, the issue is examined.

Why Leave China?

Booz-Allen and AMCHAM released a March 2008 study that argued “More than half, or 54 percent, of companies surveyed [out of 66] believe that China is losing its competitiveness to other low-cost countries.” And “wages in China now [as of June are] rising close to 25 percent a year in dollar terms in many industries” (IHT). Specific “problems” include:

1.) China’s new labor contract law, which went into effect this year, might increase costs by 8% on average per firm, and will make it more difficult to lay off workers. One provision states; “from January 1, workers who have been with a company for 10 years – or signed two fixed-term contracts – will be entitled to one month’s severance pay for every year worked.” One could argue that this law is well-needed to align Chinese workers’ interests and pay with international norms. But still, it does put upward pressures on costs of doing business.

2.) RMB appreciation. The currency has risen by 7.1% this year against the dollar, which is amazing since the RMB only appreciated 3% from July 2005 through March 2006. (But there are opposing views, namely that the evaluation is overstated due to a weak dollar- since the RMB has actually declined 16% from 2006-2008 versus the Euro.)

3.) Preferential Tax Rates Ended for Foreign Firms; Export Tax Rebates Ended. Now, foreign firms pay a higher rate, generally 25% of taxes. (Information on the new law is from Deloitte, and HERE.) Also, export tax rebates were phased out. A trade manager quoted in AFP claimed, “The yuan appreciation has a huge impact on our business. It costs us much more in the production and delivery costs. What’s worse, the export tax rebates of 13 percent were cancelled so our total costs are up 20 percent,”

4.) Inflation.  “Seven out of 10 respondents cited the rising renminbi as a major reason for China’s decline, while wage inflation was cited by 52 percent of those polled.  Wages for white-collar managers and blue-collar workers have jumped 9.1 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively [on the year],” according to the AMCHAM study.

5.) Visa Regulations. The Wall Street Journal described how, due to the newly onerous visa regulations, one businessman had to leave China for Thailand, even though his company “researches commercially viable ways to sustain water and land resources in China.” In China’s defense, this businessman’s situation was made troublesome because his company had not been legally registered to operate. (Previously, many companies have not been registered). Visa regulations and enforcement of already on-the-book rules may do a little to slow inward-bound China growth. Ultimately, however, enforcement of logical laws will benefit China, so the stifling effect of strict Visa regulations may pass post-Olympics. (Michael at The Opposite End of China explains his visa problems HERE.) 

6.) Costs of Training/Turnover. The experience of Steiff Toys provides an interesting anecdote about the challenges of training and turnover in an emerging market. After being trained, employees might seek to market their talents at a better paying company. In Steiff’s experience, “[t]he company had frequently visited its Chinese partner to try to build up a good relationship. However, once, during a six-month gap between visits, almost the entire work force at one factory had changed.”

“It was no surprise the quality varied so much. New people came, the quality dropped, then they improved their skills and left,” he said, adding that the Chinese-made trampoline parts did not reach high enough endurance standards.”

7.) Energy Rationing. In January, and then again this summer, factories had to shut down power to ensure the grid was not overloaded.

Where to Go? 

Vietnam is the country most mentioned as a relocation place, but it faces surging inflation. In May 2008, food prices were 42% higher than they had been one year ago. China, in comparison, saw food prices increase by only 21% since 2007. Still, inflation worries in both countries only cuts their economic outlook from growth at 1-2% less than initially projected. This allows both countries to grow at 7% (Vietnam), or +9% (China) on the year.

What Vietnam lacks, that China increasingly has, are sufficient infrastructure developments. AmCham Vietnam discusses the problem of infrastructure. Vietnam’s plans for development are available at the World Bank.

Also, Vietnam’s population of 86 million pales in comparison to China’s 1.3 billion. International Lawyer Dan Harris, in informal interviews with several of his clients, believes that Vietnam’s manufacturing processes and human capital still need a great deal more of investment before they can compete with China- which may never happen.

Cambodia. Hailed as the next Vietnam, some garment manufacturers are relocating here. And “South Korea and Malaysia have been pouring in investment. In 2006, foreign direct investment totaled $2.6 billion, up from just $340 million in 2004, according to the International Monetary Fund” (IHT).

Cambodia “is where Vietnam was some 8 to 10 years ago.” [Yeo] likes a lot about Cambodia: its location in a fast-growing region, a young and inexpensive work force, rising productivity, a pro-business government, stable politics and strong GDP growth, which peaked at 13.5 percent in 2005 but was expected to mellow to 7 percent or 8 percent in coming years” (IHT). Still, Cambodia is tiny, with a population of 14 Million. And the vast majority of Cambodians are laregly uneducated and unskilled. Hyping Cambodia as a future economic powerhouse is probably overstated.

Malaysia’s International Trade ministry hopes to position itself to poach manufacturing plants that leave China. Malaysia claims it is interested in investments in “high technology,” less labour-intensive industries. Malaysia’s economy and workforce, however, is much smaller than China’s (at $357 billion PPP [Purchasing Power Parity] in 2007 and a 6.3% yearly growth compared to $6.9 trillion and 11.4% growth in China). More importantly, Malaysia has less to grow than China.  Only 13% of its workforce is in agriculture, compared to 43% of the workforce in China.) While it may attract certain manufacturing industries, a large-scale relocation is unlikely since costs in Malaysia will rise as the pool of workers decrease and compete for better-paying jobs.

India. People like to laud India over China due to its democratization, but India suffers environmental degradation just like China. And India suffers internal dissent, from Naxalites, from Jammu-Kashmir, from Islamist extremists, and from its rival Pakistan. Attempts to deal with water purification, smog, and other challenges will slow India’s growth in the short run, just like such attempts can short-term stall Western countries’ industrial expansions.

India’s Democratic society is also less likely to sanction the painful changes than China’s semi-autocratic government permitted to increase development. China ended or reduced many state pensions, reduced health benefits, and evicted thousands from their homes. As Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of Commerce, describes in his book Futurecast:2020, it does not appear India has the political will to carry through needed reforms.

India still faces a large variety of difficulties it must overcome before it can rightly challenge China as a competitive place for companies to relocate their industries. The day of relocations may come, but it is not yet here.

Why China is Still Attractive

China Law Blog believes the Labor Contract law did little to directly dissuade big foreign companies from investing in China. And that makes sense. China is a huge market, well worth the time and effort of investment, both for substantitve purposes (returns on capital), and for prestige (WE have a China office; do you?).

However, CLB also noted that “China has seen a number of factory closings of late, but most of these are very domestic factories that produced low end goods. I also have no doubt that many Taiwanese and Hong Kong and Korean factories producing the same sorts of goods have closed as well [because]… Beijing has instituted a number of policies explicitly aimed at marginalizing such factories so as to push China up the value chain. ”

Asia Sentinel backs up Dan Harris’ comments, calling attention to the closing of marginal manufacturing industries, but also stating that the higher value, better-run factories are staying open.

The Chinese Miracle, of its economic growth, still has a long way to expand. As the Motley Fool’s argues, the China Story is not going to end because wages are rising in coastal provinces. Instead, a new chapter will open as manufacturing and development “Go West” and drive to the interior. China has hundreds of million-person-populated second tier cities like Xi’an, Lanzhou, and Wuhan that can benefit from and contribute to internal development, services, and manufacturing.

China is experiencing teething pains, but it still has vast human resources. Its largest problems appear to be sustaining energy supply, its need to move more toward rule of law, and a need to contain inflation. And China, for the most part, is moving toward those goals (although containment of inflation is an open question). So will businesses depart from China? Some manufacturing might. Other manufacturing will just move farther inland, to take advantage of cheaper provincial labor as the coastal regions move up the value chain.

Extra

* September 8, 2008, the Washington Post presented a story about manufacturing moving from China to the US.

22 July, 2008 Posted by | China Economy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil’s Passage To China

The BRICs are getting cozier.

In 2007 Brazil finally experienced a trade deficit with China. “Brazil’s official figures show its China-bound exports totaled $10.75 billion in value in 2007, with imports from China reaching $12.62 billion,” according to Xinhua. ” 6 percent of all Brazilian exports went to China last year, while 10 percent of all imports came from China,” according to NPR.  Bilateral trade rose 71.7% in 2007. Trade between the two took off between 2000 and 2003, when trade rose five-fold, and then again from 2004-2007 when trade more than doubled (BBC).

In 2007, the United States, Brazil’s #1 trading partner, exported $24.6 billion to Brazil and imported $25.6 billion; however, China may soon supplant the United States and Argentina in trade importance to Brazil.

In Brazil’s July-launched China Agenda program, the Brazilian Foreign Trade Secretary spoke of hopes to triple exports to China by 2010, which would account for $30 billion. This could mean that by 2011, Brazilian-China trade could surpass US-Brazil trade. However, I think that is unlikely, as I explain below.

China Supplies Mfg. Goods, Brazil Supplies Raw Materials

“96 percent of Brazil’s Chinese imports are high-value manufactured goods, 74 percent of its exports to China are low-value commodities such as soybeans and pig iron,” according to the AP.

According to Agenda China, Brazil hopes to increase exports of 619 product lines, including “Brazilian pharmaceutical products, chemicals, plastics, shoes and metals, as well as expanding the array of agricultural goods, through a higher Brazilian presence at trade fairs and through visiting delegations of businessmen” (AP). Brazil currently has three consulates in China. They are located in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xianggang (Hong Kong).

Implications

Brazil supplies raw materials China will require, such as iron. However, it is difficult for Chinese ships to reach Brazil, which could feasibly increase transport costs. They only have three options; a sea route (through Panama), another sea route around the tip of South America, or perhaps a land/sea route that would need extensive development before it could be widely feasable.

Of the three, transport through the Panama canal is by far the quickest (by days). The planned increase in Sino-Brazilian trade will make it even more vital that Panama’s expansion of the canal (to serve larger ships) is completed by 2014. (Panama Canal Expansion Proposal)

“The current locks are 33 metres (108 feet) wide, but the new locks would be 50 metres (150 feet). A third lane of traffic would be able to handle the wider loads” (BBC).

There are fears, perhaps over-stated, by some in American Ports, that US ports are not prepared to handle the newer large class of ships that can transverse the channel. If US ports are not dredged deeper, the US will lose a percentage of trade to the Venezuelan, or Brazilian economies.

Given the current fuel-price increases and the necessity of long journeys for goods to be transported from Brazil to China, I consider it doubtful that Brazil will increase exports to China three-fold in the next two years. Although the countries have demonstrated an ability to increase trade, the current economic slowdown and Chinese resource investments in Africa and in Australian companies will make purchases from Brazil of less immediate importance.

Trade will increase, since both countries’ are growing despite global difficulties, both will experience slight drags on expansion due to the global slowdown. This will ultimately make unattainable Brazil’s three-fold growth in trade to China .

After 2014, however, with the Panama Canal’s widening, all bets are off. In those circumstances, Brazil-China trade could certainly increase, perhaps exponentially.

* An interesting blog post from MarketOracle on the Brazil-China trade (crica, Feb 2007)

16 July, 2008 Posted by | China Diplomacy, China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Isn’t that Odd?: Plastic Bag Entrepreneurs

China has long been a country of entrepreneurs, from its urine merchants, to the indigents who walk around recycling plastic bottles and aluminum (they are ubiquitous, despite some efforts to remove them, both high and low tech [The former is an electronic recycling machine; the latter, a poignant transcript of a UK special on a “clean up” of homeless who make a living collecting plastic bottles]), to the proprietors of hundreds of mom and pop shops.

What follows is an amusing prediction for this week’s Isn’t That Odd.  If you’re in China and you see this happening, please post here- I’m asking my contacts to look out for this.

I predict that China’s new plastic bag policy is going to create a new wave of self-employment for their urban poor. Why? Well, first, let’s examine the policy:

1.) A National Policy Designed to Reduce Plastic Bag Waste
The policy of charging for plastic bags (at .2-.6 yuan), and phasing out the ultra-thin bags will hopefully decrease waste as people begin toting canvass and bamboo bags to the stores. However, some problems have been realized due to this policy, as a recent Xinhua article examined; ranging from vendors who are still utilizing the ultra-thin bags, to others who are not charging for bag usage.  “At a small grocery near the Carrefour, the shopkeeper still offered customers free plastic bags. As he said: “I sold vegetables worth 0.7 yuan. How can I charge 0.5 yuan for a bag?”

Other problems include:

It is more difficult to tote canvass bags everywhere when one goes outside. Penny-pinching people have to plan before going shopping, instead of previously being able to use free store-supplied plastic bags or to purchase new canvas bags at the grocery.

Also, at markets, fish-sellers now wrap fish in newspapers instead of inside plastic bags. This causes newsprint to leak onto the fish, which makes the food untasty and unsanitary. And places where the plastic bags are still used have suffered problems of people grabbing extra bags to use for private purposes- creating a shortage at some stores, as the Xinhua article goes on to explain.

Consequences: Depending on how much of a price these plastic bags might be oversold at, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Chinese entrepreneurs standing outside stores, selling and undercutting the stores’ prices for plastic bags. They might grab a few extra bags when they are in the stores, they might repurpose previously-used bags, or they might (if they have some capital) go to a manufacturer and purchase bags in bulk.

If you’ve ever read Carl Crow’s venerable 400 Million Customers, you know how hardscrabble the Chinese can be in seeking out entrepreneurial opportunities.

My favorite tale of Mr. Crow’s (he wrote in the 1930s but his words are still relevant and amusing today- and inspired another informative book- James McGregor’s One Billion Customers.) is how Crow organized an ad promotion with a US manufacturer who wanted to introduce a better brand of soap (I think-I read the book a few years ago so my memory is slightly hazy) in Chinese stores. The manufacturer gave stores free soap samples to hand to their customers.

A month later, the manufacturer was quite upset, because brand awareness hadn’t increased. So Crow went to investigate. He found the stores and discovered several problems.

1.) Many stores were selling the “free” samples; because they figured it didn’t matter if one brand of soap was more popular than another; because they weren’t in the business of selling soap, consumers could buy their soap anywhere so giving soap for free would do nothing for their store! (They didn’t believe they could build store-brand loyalty with customers by giving something away for free- see point 2). And by selling the soap (cheaper than other brands), they could gain extra money that their neighbor stores wouldn’t get and could still win a little customer loyalty since customers would be glad that store A offered better prices!

2.) If something was free, many customers figured, it must be lower quality, or spoiled. So they didn’t want to take free samples. Only the poorest of the poor took the free samples, and they couldn’t afford to purchase this expensive soap anyway, so the marketing tactic fell flat!

 Oh, China- such an Odd and wonderful Capitalistic place.

4 July, 2008 Posted by | Book Review, China Business, China Environment/Health, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Visible Hand of China in Latin America

Off the Shelf:

The Visible Hand of China in Latin America (2007), edited by Javier Santiso of the OECD, is a great pamphlet with a lot of hard data about China’s role in that part of the world.

While much is often stated of China’s trade surplus with the rest of the world, China actually ran a trade deficit with Latin America for much of the 2000s. China is the continent’s third largest trading partner, after the United States.

Eduardo Lora opens the book with a discussion on whether Latin America should fear China. From the data he presents, the answer appears to be “not yet.” He points out several economic weaknesses faced by China.

1.) Allegedly, China still has poor corporate governance and inefficient state-owned companies. Lora notes that the amount of state-run underperforming assets has massively declined over the years, but he makes much of the nonperforming loans and debt that burdened Chinese banks until restructuring and bank sheet balancing resulted in NPLs at only 9.5% as of late 2006. Considering how flush with reserves, investment and other cash China currently is, and how their companies are modernizing business practices, I do not think corporate governance questions is necessarily a crippling problem for China to overcome with investments in Latin America… especially when compared to indigenous Latin American companies’ problems with inefficiency and corruption.

To back up his assertion, Lora goes on to argue (27) that the three largest firms in main economic sectors are state owned and that China is propping up 30-50% of those firms as “national champions” by giving them loads of state support so they will become globally competitive multinationals by 2010 (27). He argues this will lead to inefficiencies.

For comparison for how strong China’s companies are. As of 2007, China managed to get eight companies into Fortune 500’s World’s Most Admired Companies (The US had 135; Japan, 61; Britain, France, and Germany, 26 apiece) . A good amount of the top companies, however, are state owned. [I find it odd though that Huawei, Lenovo, Haier, Baidu, and Galanz were not listed as admired companies– a lot can be said for them as Donald Sull (2005) discussed in Made In China.] And indeed, being listed on Interbrand’s listing of Top Global Brands still escapes Chinese companies. As of 2007, China still had no companies on the list (Here’s the report). The Best China brands are examined here. An easy chart of them is here.

2.) Lora gets a bit technical by discussing how China’s financial system is still undeveloped (28-30). Keep in mind though that a lot he discusses as being undeveloped has evolved since his article was written (in late 2006). He complains how until 2006, foreigners could only buy nonvoting B-shares in several sectors (infrastructure, utilities, and finiancials). Now, he says foreigners can purchase A shares, but to ensure stability they are required to buy over 10% of shares and hold for longer than 3 years. Lora argues this lack of easy-foreign investment will eventually damage Chinese companies’ ability to efficiently expand. (Then again, China has a lot of money even within its country, so maybe it will escape these problems.)

3.) Allegedly 50% of GDP (31) is locked up in savings and investments. Lora states this could be good, but it prevents capital and labor from moving to the most efficient sectors.

4.) Lora points out that 40% of private entrepreneurs with companies that have incomes over $120,000 USD are CCP members (31). This could be a neutral comment, or it could imply possibility that corruption rather than efficiency might govern China’s future capital markets.

Lora then discusses weaknesses that are shared between the countries:

5.) Weak higher education. (More on that in a later article)

6.) Corruption/Weak Rule of Law

As of 2007 there were 122,000 Chinese lawyers at one per 10,650 people [In the US the ratio is 1 per 270]  (“Chinese Seek a Day in Court”, WSJ, July 1, A12) but most judges are retired from the PLA and lack legal expertise.

I don’t particularly believe Lora’s view that China’s companies are doomed to not meet expectations of world-dominance, since China is confronting many troubles he identifies. However, the points he raises have at times been overlooked by people willing to too-quickly crown China the next world hegemon.

Chapter 2, by Jorge Blázquez-Lidoy, Javier Rodríguez and Javier Santiso discuss whether China’s markets complement or threaten Latin America’s.

China’s export-mix competes the most with Thailand, Hungary, and Mexican goods (53). Costa Rica also, to a lesser degree, faces competition (54).

Brazil and China are highly complementary in trade (55).

In a chart on (54), Santiso excellently documents, through use of his own data tables, how Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Columbia and Argentina have very little competitive overlap with China.

Mexico and China share interest in IT, consumer electronics, clothes, and manufacturing. Transportation equipment is Mexico’s only advantage.

Latin America allegedly has too inefficient ports, so they cannot gain in transport cheapness vis-a-vis China in trade with other countries and regions. Customs are too slow, taking up to seven days on average to clear across the region. However, Latin America will still not be overly burdened by China competition since the two regions specialize in different products.

Latin America, for example, gains in trade to China by sending copper, oil, soybeans, and coffee.

According to the article, “in 2004, 1/2 of Chinese FDI went to Latin America, exceeding the 30 per cent that went to Asia (70).” I’m not sure that’s completely true and will have to consult my other sources, but it bears examining, because it’s quite interesting, given all the media attention lavished on China-Africa relations.

In essence, Santiso concludes that “China will benefit other emerging economies in [Latin America in] the long term.” “Latin America faces few if any short-term trade costs” (55), except in Mexico and Costa Rica, of course.

Chapters 3-5 were okay, but didn’t reveal too much of immediate interest. The pamphlet-book is a good read, and I’ll recommend it even though it is fast getting out of date. There simply aren’t that many good articles/books written on China-Latin America relations, but of the ones that do exist, Santiso’s is certainly a gem.

OTHER RESOURCES

* Mohan Malik, writing for PINR has a digestable version of Sino-Latin American Relations.

* There is a 2005 CRS Congressional report on China’s influence in Latin America.

* PBS had a radio program on China-Latin America ties. One Brazilian disagreed with Santiso’s statement that China benefitted the Brazilian economy. He called attention to textile competition.

2 July, 2008 Posted by | Book Review, China Business, China Economy, China Future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Consequences of China’s Oil Price Hike

China has finally raised the prices on its oil. It came a bit sooner than I expected, but as I stated in “China’s Oil Price Freeze,” the raise was a lot lower than needs to be done (China’s prices are still 1/4 cheaper than gas in the US and 1/3 cheaper per liter than oil in the UK). The United States’ prices on oil have risen over 50% since December 2007 (based on calculations of average gas prices of 2.71 in 2007, according to the EIA);

China only raised their oil prices 16 to 18%. (In November, they raised prices 11% to confront $80/barrel oil;  China’s oil companies appear to still have a shortfall of $21 dollars per barrel from current prices of nearly $130 a barrel.)

Rising oil prices will affect Chinese stability, inflation, and government openness.

STABILITY

According to Xinhua, the Chinese State news agency: “more subsidies would be offered to farmers, public transport, low-income families and taxi drivers to cushion the crunch of price rises.” According to FT, “the finance ministry said the targeted subsidies would amount to Rmb19.8bn ($2.9bn, €1.8bn, £1.5bn).”

Given  China’s huge trade surplus, the burden of cost can be arguably borne by the government (And the amount of subsidies direct to the people currently is far less than the amount of subsidies ($50 billion plus) the Chinese government would have needed to give to state oil corporations forced to do business at under-market prices. Apparently,  Sinopec was losing money on imports when “the international price exceeded $78 a barrel.”)

The problem with the Chinese government pumping a lot of money into the hands of its poor peasants, however, is that it can lead to inflation. In a similar situation in Indonesia “the [Indonesian] government forecasts inflation will rise to 12% in June — up from 8.96% in April — as the fuel-price increase feeds into the broader economy.”

INFLATION

Remember, in 1989, part of the impetus for the massive protests was runaway inflation, rising unemployment and lowering standards of living. And as Pieter Botellier of the Jamestown Foundation also argued; “the Communists’ defeat of the Nationalists in the Chinese civil war of 1945-1949 was greatly assisted by the run-away inflation of those years, which sharply reduced the popularity of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China (ROC) government. ”

This is not to say China’s government is in any danger of losing its grip on power– but rising inflation might cause its leaders to look to past lessons of history and react skittishly to the consequences of unrestrained inflation. According to Prof. Victor Shih of Northwestern, this is the highest inflation we’ve seen in China since the mid 1990s. Also according to Shih, there is a current factional dispute in China’s leadership about whether to continue to tighten the monentary supply, or to reevaluate the RMB upward to correct the domestic inflation problem. It’s a complicated situation, and I recommend reading his article for more details.

OPENNESS

In light of increased tensions as a result of upwardly spiraling inflation and energy costs; President Hu Jintao might be encouraged to crack down more on free press and coverage of unrest that will likely emerge as people are able to afford less and less.

The Chinese belief has long been that silencing opposition makes it go away. We’ll see what happens over the coming months.

RESULTS

Due to transportation costs, Chinese food prices will increase even more than the 22% percent they have already appreciated since last year. (In all, according to the BBC, China’s inflation as of April was up 8.5% on the year.) Rising inflation could lead to big problems and the end of 4 kuai (.50 cent) meals that sustain many low-paid migrant workers who labor in the cities and send remittances to their farming families.

Already, there has been a slight decrease in the amount of migrant workers in China’s coastal cities (regrettably, I can’t currently find the Journal article I saw the numbers for this cited in- I will post it as soon as I find it), driving up prices for construction and leading to more inflation. The eventual return of these workers to their villages and second-tier cities might be good for the economy in the long-term as some population stress is removed; but in the short term, their return with big city views, and big city demands for quality of life, these returnees could have big cosmopolitan demands for their local governments- demands that might not be met and could cause social unrest.

IN SUMMARY:

ONE Beijing still needs to subsidize a gap of around $20 in international purchases of oil. Its importing companies are still losing cash, but ultimately China can weather slightly cheaper oil prices than the rest of the world since “average Chinese [domestic] production costs were about $US20 ($21)”. It’s the internationally-bought oil gap that China has to pay for.

TWO China also has to manage the social unrest that will originate due to the rising oil prices. Subsidies to the right populations should take a lot of the bite out of that unrest. Prof. Victor Shih of Northwestern speculates a little on what needs to be done to prop up the Chinese middle and lower classes after gas prices rise. 

THREE There may be citizen-government clashes over the increased oil prices, much as there were in March 2007 during the Yongzhou Mass Incident,  sparked over rising public transportation costs. This could be why public transport costs are being kept steady. (According to the FT, “CSFB, the investment bank, estimates that an 8 per cent increase in fares would add 2.3 percentage points to inflation. “)

FOUR If there are clashes, the government will likely clamp down, and try to keep the media from reporting on negative developments since China does not want to look bad in the year of its Olympics (as noted in my earlier article.) How successful they are remains to be determined.

FIVE And certainly, other reprecussions will be demonstrated, from migrant worker movements, to wage price increases, to possible capital flight from China. Remember, it’s China… Anything can happen.

—-

Also of note: An article on hidden cost of fuel subsidies explains why China needed to reevaluate its oil prices.

And Forbes discusses in more detail the weird situation where one of China’s national oil companies, Sinopec suffered under the system and required billions in state subsidies to prop up its foreign oil acquisitions.

http://www.eeo.com.cn/ens//Industry/2008/06/25/104320.html Also had an interesting article on the possible reprecussions of the price rise on China’s national oil companies.

20 June, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Energy, China Future | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off the Shelf: China’s Economic Influence

The April 2008 CRS American government report I mentioned before in “China’s Soft Power” dredged up some good statistical data regarding China’s economic reach. However, the CRS analysis fell flat by not including Hong Kong’s FDI in the full calculation of China’s FDI and influence on foreign countries.  

China’s 2007 stock of FDI abroad is either $93.7 billion (according to the CIA), or $73.3 billion (according to the report; CRS, 22) or $292 billion (according to UNCTAD); but if you add Hong Kong there is an additional $534 billion or $769 billion in FDI stocks to be accounted (according to the CIA and UNCTAD respectively), or $43 billion in same-year 2006 FDI flows, according to UNCTAD.

Because Hong Kong’s FDI is omitted, the CRS report understates much of China’s world-wide influence.

Of course, much of Hong Kong’s $534 billion in FDI is reinvested back in the mainland.

Many factors can be evaluated when considering China’s worldwide economic influence. Here, I highlight two main ideas touched on in the report; China’ Foreign Trade, and its FDI.

CHINA TRADE

China’s main trading strengths are with countries bordering it such as Japan, South Korea, Central Asia, ASEAN, and Pacific Island Countries. Its total trade with Pacific Island Countries was $754 million in 2006, compared to $404 million by the United States, $3.7 billion by Australia, $918 million by Japan, and $832 million by the EU-25 countries (CRS, 36).

“[I]n 2007, China’s total trade with ASEAN was 17% larger than total U.S. trade ($200.6 billion versus $171.7 billion). China’s exports to ASEAN in 2007 were 55.6%” greater than United States’ exports to the region, while U.S. imports from ASEAN were 2.6% greater than China’s imports (CRS, 91).

“Based on the fact that China’s imports from ASEAN in 2007 grew by 21.1% (over the previous year), versus 12.4% for the United States, it is likely that China’s imports from ASEAN will be larger than U.S. imports [from the region] in 2008. China ran a $14.1 billion trade deficit with ASEAN, while the U.S. trade deficit totaled $50.6 billion” (CRS, 91).

China’s trade with Japan was $210.7 billion in 2006; Japan’s amount of trade with the US was $213.5. The trend in trade indicates China is probably now Japan’s number one trading partner (CRS, 43). Japan receives 9.5% of China’s exports.

China’s trade was greater that US trade with South Korea in 2006. China-SK had $118.1 billion in bilateral commerce, compared to America’s $76.9 billion in bilateral commerce with the peninsular state (CRS, 44). China’s trade with the country is rapidly accelerating and currently accounts for 4.6% of China’s exports (CRS, 45).

China’s trade with Central Asia was $12 billion in 2006 (CRS, 71), accounting for 1.34% of Chinese export trade (CRS, 72). In 2003, US trade with Central Asia amounted to $1 billion. In 2006, the United States imported $1.3 billion from the 5 Central Asian states and exported around $927 million to them (Data from HERE, HERE, HERE), HERE, and HERE). for a total of around $2.3 billion; dwarfed by China’s trade with the region.

WHERE THE UNITED STATES’ TRADE INFLUENCE REMAINS STRONG

In contrast, the United States still trades more with Latin America and Africa, two regions often identified as places where China might eventually challenge the United States’ trade dominance.

“China’s overall trade with LAC [Latin American Countries] grew to about $70 billion in 2006, representing just 4% of its overall trade. In comparison, U.S. trade with Latin America and the Caribbean amounted to almost $555 billion in 2006” (CRS, 26).

“From 2001–2006, the absolute value of U.S. goods trade with Africa, at $71 billion, was greater than that of Sino-African trade, but Chinese-African trade grew at a much faster rate than U.S.-African trade.” Then again, it had a longer way to rise. “China’s total trade with sub-Saharan Africa rose from $8.92 billion to $45.35 billion in that period, an increase of 409%, as compared to a 152% rise in total U.S.-African trade” (CRS, 119).

WHAT EFFECT DOES CHINA’S RISING TRADE HAVE?

China’s growing influence in trade with its Asian neighbors could lead to future trade embargoes and conflicts such as the 2001 mushroom/automobile trade war between China and Japan. This began when Japan placed a tariff on Chinese leeks and mushrooms. In return, the Chinese imposed oppressively high tariffs on Japanese cars, mobile phones, and air conditioners. The Japanese eventually backed off. It is important to note, however, that the mushroom trade war happened before full Chinese ascension to the WTO. Now that China is part of the WTO (since November 2001) and greater integrated into the world financial system, such trade wars might be less likely to occur.

US-CHINA TRADE & THE TRADE DEFICIT

The United States received, in 2006, 21% of China’s exports (CRS, 45). “In 2007 the United States incurred a merchandise trade deficit of $256 billion with China, $83 billion with Japan, and $13 billion with South Korea (43% of the total U.S. trade deficit of $816 billion) (CRS, 60).

CHINA FDI

As earlier noted; estimates of China’s FDI investments in foreign countries might be incorrect due to non-inclusion of Hong Kong FDI numbers into the CRS report.

From existing data, it appears China’s FDI sent abroad is relatively low.

“From 2002–2006, U.S. FDI flows to ASEAN were $13.7 billion (or 8.0% of total), making the United States ASEAN’s 4th largest source for FDI. Over this period, China’s FDI totaled $2.3 billion or 1.3% of total, making China the 10th overall source of ASEAN’s FDI” (CRS, 95). “The United States remains ASEAN’s 2nd largest trading partner (China ranks 5th) and its 4th largest source of foreign direct investment (China ranks 10th)” (CRS, 102).

“While China’s reported cumulative stock of FDI in [Latin America] amounted to $11.5 billion in 2005, the cumulative stock of U.S. FDI in the region amounted to $366 billion in 2005, and grew to $403 billion by 2006” (CRS, 26).

Considering the difficulties of analysis; rather than getting into a deeper blow-by-blow analysis of China’s FDI around the world, I’ll point out an interesting point.

According to the UN; US and Japan’s year 2005 FDI into China accounted for $95 billion, which is $22 billion more than China’s total 2006 FDI invested everywhere in the world (CRS, 47). Using those numbers, it still appears that foreigners are developing and affecting China more than China is developing and affecting the world.

At least that’s how it is for now, anyway.

CONCLUSION

There’s a lot more to read in the US Government report, from a discussion on Sino-Japanese-Korean relations, to analyses of how the Taiwan issue affects international relations and of China’s energy diplomacy and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), to in-depth discussion of international loans and trading and nuanced explanations of where China’s FDI is heading and why.

Despite its flaws, the report is still well worth checking out.

* Also of Interest: UNCTAD’s World Investment Report: 2006

17 June, 2008 Posted by | Book Review, China Diplomacy, China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment