Breaking China’s Investment Addiction

Faced with sluggish external demand and weak domestic consumption, China depends on investment to drive economic growth – leading to overproduction, inflation, soaring real-estate prices, and rising debt among enterprises and local governments. To reach the next stage of development, China must break its reliance on investment.

BEIJING – China’s economic growth model is running out of steam. According to the World Bank, in the 30 years after Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reform, investment accounted for 6-8 percentage points of the country’s 9.8% average annual economic growth rate, while improved productivity contributed only 2-4 percentage points. Faced with sluggish external demand, weak domestic consumption, rising labor costs, and low productivity, China depends excessively on investment to drive economic growth.

Although this model is unsustainable, China’s over-reliance on investment is showing no signs of waning. In fact, as China undergoes a process of capital deepening (increasing capital per worker), even more investment is needed to contribute to higher output and technological advancement in various sectors.

In 1995-2010, when China’s average annual GDP growth rate was 9.9%, fixed-asset investment (investment in infrastructure and real-estate projects) increased by a factor of 11.2, rising at an average annual rate of 20%. Total fixed-asset investment amounted to 41.6% of GDP, on average, peaking at 67% of GDP in 2009, a level that would be unthinkable in most developed countries.

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