Excellent economic analysis of China by Yiping Huang, a professor of Economics at Peking University and at the China Economy Program at the Australian National University and Barclay Bank Hong Kong’s Chief Economist for Asia.  His analysis can be found in an EastAsiaForum article, entitled, “China’s New Growth,” in which Huang talks of how the Chinese government is fine with China’s GDP growth slowing to between 6 to 8 percent per year and of how that is what we should expect going forward.  According to Professor Huang, the days of China needing GDP growth of eight percent and above merely to avoid increased unemployment are over.  Super high growth was needed in the late 1990s when China’s labor force was increasing by more than ten million people per year, but not now when its labor force is actually declining.

Huang goes on to talk of how China’s external account is balancing out, its currency is probably close to equilibrium and its gini coefficient is improving.  Perhaps most importantly, he talks of how the percentage of China’s growth from consumption has risen and is likely to continue to do so, much of it brought about by rising wages, which will soon be followed by rising capital and energy costs:

I have long argued that China’s reform approach can be characterized as asymmetric liberalization, that is, complete freeing of the product markets while heavy distortions are maintained in factor markets. The generally depressed costs of production have the effect of subsidies for the corporate sector but taxes on households. This was the key mechanism contributing to both strong economic growth and growing structural imbalances during China’s reform period.

This pattern has begun to change over the past several years, starting in the labour market. Rapid wage increases squeeze profit margins, slow economic growth and escalate inflationary pressure. They improve income distribution, since low-income households rely more on labour income, while high-income households depend more on corporate profits and investment returns. Rising wages also redistribute income from the corporate sector to households and, therefore, boost consumption as the share of household income in GDP increases.

China’s new growth model is still in its early stages. So far, we have only seen the first wave of cost shocks — changes in the labour market — which have a significant impact on labour-intensive manufacturing industries. The second wave of cost shocks — a rise in the costs of capital and energy — has just started. This could affect state-owned, highly leveraged and heavy industries more dramatically because they were previously built on a distorted cost structure. Consolidation of heavy industries could lead to the first recession of the Chinese economy since the beginning of its economic reforms.

This will not necessarily lead to a period of stagnant growth, as analysts such as Michael Pettis suggest. While cost normalization would shrink economic activity in the state sector, it should benefit the non-state sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of total industrial output.

I think Huang is right and I think what this means for foreign companies is what we have been saying on this blog for years:

  1. Yes, China is still the factory to the world.  But it is also a great and ever-improving market for goods.  And I don’t want to act like a TV ad pitchman, but for most products (both consumer and b2b), the longer you wait to get into China, the greater the odds that someone else will have established what should have been your market share.  For what it takes to sell into China, check out the following:

2.  China wages and other manufacturing costs are going to continue rising. This means that if you are making a product that can easily be made somewhere less expensive than China, you need to consider China alternatives.  For more on your options, check out the following:

3.  If Huang is right (and again, I think he is), we should expect the economic power of China’s State Owned Entities (SOEs) to decline and the economic power of  China’s privately held companies to increase.  Though I think Huang is right on the economics of this, I am not sure if politics will allow this to happen. But if Professor Huang is right, the value of doing business with China’s private companies has just gone up as compared to doing business with China’s SOEs.

What do you think?  Do you agree that China’s economy is changing?  What ramification do you see China’s Changing Economy having for you or for foreign businesses in general?

Co-blogger Steve Dickinson has been speaking of late at various embassies and chambers of commerce in Beijing regarding China’s Twelfth Five Year Plan. Steve will be speaking on this again at the Swedish Chamber in April. The following is the outline Steve has been using.

A major task for this year is the adoption of a 12th Five Year Plan by the National People’s Congress. This plan will be adopted during the March meetings of the National People’s Congress and the CPC. Guidance for the plan was adopted by the CPC last October in two critical documents: 

The Opinion of the CPC Central Committee on Establishing the 12th Five Year Plan (中共中央关于制定国民经济和社会发展第十二个五年规划的建议) (the Opinion) adopted on October 18, 2010

Explanation of the Opinion (央关于制定国民经济和社会发展第十二个五年规划的建议的说明) authored by Wen Jiabao and presented to the CPC Central Committee on October 15, 2010.

This preliminary review is based on those documents and on government and research institutes that have put out papers in response to those documents.

I. China’s Ten Major Challenges

The goal of the Chinese regulators is for China to become a moderately prosperous country by 2020. The current five year period will be critical in meeting that goal. China has recently reached a level where its per capita GDP equals $US4,000. Its goal is to achieve a $US10,000 per capita GDP by the year 2020. This is a critical transition. It is generally believed to be relatively easy for a country to achieve the $4,000 number. It is common, however, for countries to stall out in GDP growth and never achieve the $10,000 goal. 

The goal of the 12th Five Year plan is to prevent China’s growth from stalling. In the Opinion, the CPC identifies 10 factors that threaten the continued development of the Chinese economy:

  1. Resource constraints: energy and raw materials.
  2. Mismatch in investment and imbalance in consumption.
  3. Income disparity.
  4. Weakness in capacity for domestic innovation.
  5. Production structure is not rational: too much heavy industry, not enough service.
  6. Agriculture foundation is thin and weak.
  7. Urban/rural development is not coordinated.
  8. Employment system is imbalanced.
  9. Social contradictions are progressively more apparent.
  10. Obstacles to scientific development continue to exist and are difficult to remove.

II. The Theoretical Solution

Before discussing the concrete outline of the plan, the Party sets out the theoretical approach that will serve as the guide:

A. The Main Theme: Scientific Development

  • “During the period of the 12th Five Year Plan, economic development remains the key to resolution of all problems.” (Wen Jiabao, quoting from the Opinion)
  • Development must be “scientific,” practical (unconstrained by ideology), human centered, and sustainable.

B. The Main Line: “China must rapidly engage in a complete transformation of its form of economic development.”

It cannot be stressed sufficiently how radical is the proposed remedy. The idea is not to refine the current system, but to completely transform the current system in the brief period of five years. This is a bold goal.

The focus of transformation is as follows:

1. From export led consumption to domestic led consumption.

  • From excessive reliance on exports to balance between export, import and domestic consumption.
  • From reliance on foreign technology to reliance on domestic innovation.
  • From reliance on “old” energy and materials and industries to creation of a low-carbon /new-materials based economy.

III. Ten Point Outline of the 12th Five Year Plan

A. In order to address the 10 challenges, and in accordance with the theoretical approach, the CPC proposes that the 12th Five Year Plan focus on 10 major areas, as follows:

1. Expand domestic consumption while maintaining stable economic development.

  • Unleash domestic consumption This will be done through the measures at item seven below.
  • Coordinate consumption, investment and export to create a balanced economy.

2. Modernize agriculture to create the new socialist rural village. .

  • Modernize agriculture through mechanization and measures that allow larger farms.
  • Invest in agriculture infrastructure, especially in waterworks.
  • Create non-agricultural rural employment.
  • Improve legal and financial development mechanisms.
  • Improve agricultural service business in areas such as wholesaling, warehousing, processing, transportation and marketing.

3. Develop a modern, balanced industrial and trade structure.

  • Develop service trade. Services currently contribute to less than 40% of GDP. The goal is to raise this number to 70% or higher.
  • Develop modern energy and integrated logistics.
  • Develop marine resources.

4. Advance the integration between regions and encourage stable urbanization.

  • Combat regional disparities.
  • Eliminate the urban/rural distinction. Cities at the second tier and lower must accept rural migrants. The goal is to provide for industrial/service employment for agricultural laborers in areas close to their current residence. This will be done to avoid a mass migration of rural residents into the tier one cities.

5. Promote energy saving and environmental protection.

Currently, for every 1% increase in GDP, China’s energy use increases by 1% or more. If this rate continues, China will need to increase its energy consumption by 2.5 times to achieve its 2020 economic goal. To put this into perspective, this would mean increasing the current consumption of coal from the current 3.6 billion tons per year to an astronomical 7.9 billion tons a year. No one in China thinks this can be done. One major way to reduce the amount of energy required for the Chinese economy is to implement energy saving practices throughout the economy. A second way to reduce is to shift from hydrocarbon based energy to alternative energy sources. The new plan advocates an all out program in this area.

6. Create an innovation driven society by encouraging education and training of the workforce.

The plan seeks to shift China from its role as the factory of the world to a new role as a technological innovator for the world. There are two components to this approach:

  • China will need to become a domestic innovator in all areas of current modern technology, with an emphasis on practical industrial applications.
  • Where China is not capable of domestic innovation, China will continue to import technology from advanced economies. However, China will seek to actively domesticate that technology through a program of “assimilate and re-invent.” The recent program for production in engines for high speed rail is offered as an example of the “assimilate and re-invent” approach.

7. Establish a comprehensive public social welfare system.

In order to meet the goal of unleashing domestic consumption, China has to move to a policy that puts more disposable income in the hands of its citizens. The plan proposed the following approach:

a. Labor and employment

China must provide jobs for a growing workforce. There are two key areas:

— It is estimated that over the next ten years, 200 million persons will be shifted from agricultural labor to urban industrial/service labor. Jobs for these persons consistent with their training must be provided.

— Currently, China’s colleges produce far more graduates than the economy can absorb. Entry level jobs for college and technical school graduates must be provided. Education must also be adjusted to accord with the realities of the job market.

b. Wages

Chinese wage are abnormally low. Most planners are pushing for tripling of the average wage for factory workers during this 5 year plan.

c. Provide comprehensive government benefit programs, especially retirement pensions.

d. Provide government funded medical services with comprehensive basic coverage by the end of 2011.

e. Maintain active population control.

It is interesting to note that two major issues are not effectively considered in the plan: the first is the cost of housing and the second is the cost of high school and college education. Though there has been some discussion of constructing low income housing, the measures proposed will do little or nothing to address the problem of affordable housing in China’s major cities.

8. Encourage cultural production in order to increase China’s “soft power”.

China will seek to make its case for the world to avoid misunderstanding China’s goals and its role within the world economy.

9. Increase the pace of reform of the economy.

  • Financial market reform, especially the RMB.
  • Energy price reform and price reform of other economic inputs (raw materials).

10. Continue with liberalization and “opening-up” to the outside, but on a new track.

  • Shift from export only to a balance between export and import.
  • Shift from inbound investment only to a balance between inbound and outbound investment. China will continue with its “going out” policy.
  • Actively participate in international economic governance.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal Real Time Blog, in its post, “National People’s Congress: Not Just a Rubber Stamp Session” and Christina Larson of Foreign Policy in her post, “What will be in China’s next Five Year Plan?” both cite to our post and then do an excellent job providing additional analysis of what we should be expecting from the Plan.

Very thoughtful post (whose title I dare not mention and whose link no longer exists) on Richard Spencer’s blog analyzing whether Western comments on China’s recalcitrance for reform (how’s that for an intentional euphemism?) are a symptom of Western jealousy regarding China’s rise. All I know is that there is not a China lawyer in my firm who would not tell you that pretty much all almost all of our China clients (foreign companies doing business in China or with China) are thriving right now.

Makes for an excellent read.

The always lively AsiaPundit Blog just weighed in on the China boom or bust controversy we started the other day, here and here.  In a post, entitled, “China’s Boom/China’s Bust,” [link no longer exists] AsiaPundit comes down on the side of the bears, but just barely (pun intended):

AsiaPundit admits to being a bit of a bear on China. It’s not that China’s economic growth is a myth. The ‘miracle’ is very measurable. However, anything that can be measured cannot be called a miracle.

There will be a crisis, it could be sparked by bad policies at home or abroad. A collapse of US housing markets, for instance, could easily plunge the Middle Kingdom into despair. When the crisis happens, the interesting thing will be how it plays out socially and politically.
The US tends to solve its problems quickly and has the political flexibility to dismiss bad administrations by ballot. Japan’s biggest crisis sparked a decade of deflation. After the Asian crisis Indonesia emerged a democracy, the Philippines never really found its feet, while South Korea made a wonderful transformation.

Predicting when a crisis will occur is a crap shoot, although there are indicators that can provide warning signs. Guessing what happens after a crisis hits is next to impossible.

China Law Blog earlier this week posted a response challenging Minxin Pei’s doom-and-gloom article on China’s problems. Today Dan Harris, the blog’s author, notes that Tom Barnett and James Na have replied:

I blogged a few days ago about a recent article by Minxin Pei predicting China’s inevitable fall. At that time I talked about the article having generated “quite a bit of buzz in the blogosphere.”  The buzz is even louder now.

I posted Dr. Pei’s article because I found it thought provoking, but I did not sign on to its pessimistic conclusion.  I suggested that those interested in these sorts of “big idea think pieces” on China should read “big idea” bloggers like James Na, Dan Drezner and Tom Barnett, whose views range all over the China optimist-pessimist map.

Barnett and Na took me up on my suggestion and ran posts on the Pei piece.  Na liked Pei’s thesis.  Barnett did not.

At some point, China will face both small and large economic crisis.  My disagreement is with those who seem to delight in predicting China’s economic doom based more on China’s politics than on its present economic realities.