LONDON – Since his first address as China’s president last year, Xi Jinping has been espousing the so-called “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation and individual self-improvement. But the imperative of addressing the unprecedented amount of debt that China has accumulated in recent years is testing Xi’s resolve – and his government is blinking.
The Chinese government’s uncertain ability – or willingness – to rein in debt is apparent in its contradictory commitment to implement major structural reforms while maintaining 7.5% annual GDP growth. Given that China owes much of its recent growth to debt-financed investment – often in projects like infrastructure and housing, meant to support the Chinese Dream – any effort to get credit growth under control is likely to cause a hard landing. This prospect is already prompting the authorities to delay critical reforms.