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China on the Move

BEIJING – The debate is over. After six years of weighing the options, China is now firmly committed to implementing a new growth strategy. At least, that’s the verdict I gleaned from the just-completed annual China Development Forum, long China’s most important dialogue with the outside world.

There were no surprises in the basic thrust of the strategy – a structural shift in China’s investment- and export-led growth model toward a more balanced consumer-based and services-led economy. The transformation reflects both necessity and design.

It is necessary because persistently weak global growth is unlikely to provide the solid external demand for Chinese exports that it once did. But it is also essential, because China’s new leadership seems determined to come to grips with a vast array of internal imbalances that threaten the environment, promote destabilizing income inequality, and exacerbate regional disparities.

The strategic shift is also a deliberate effort by Chinese policymakers to avoid the dreaded “middle-income trap” – a mid-stage slowdown that has ensnared most emerging economies when per capita income nears the $17,000 threshold (in constant international prices). Developing economies that maintain their old growth models for too long fall into it, and China probably will hit the threshold in 3-5 years.