La naissance tant attendue du consommateur chinois

PÉKIN – L’histoire en sera seul juge, mais de bonnes raisons nous permettent de penser que le troisième Plénum récemment achevé en Chine devrait un jour être considéré comme un moment charnière dans le développement du pays. Après une longue période d’attente, les hauts dirigeants chinois ont enfin adopté une série de réformes susceptibles de permettre la réorientation d’une économie jusqu’alors dépendante des exportations, vers un modèle de croissance désormais fondé sur la consommation.

Jusqu’à présent, cette perspective de transformation se limitait à la formulation de grandes lignes et autres aspirations. Le 12e plan quinquennal, adopté en mars 2011, avait par exemple promis l’émergence d’une économie poussée par la consommation, reposant sur les piliers de l’urbanisation et du développement d’un secteur tertiaire embryonnaire. Toutefois, malgré l’importance de ces engagements dans le déploiement d’opportunités pour la classe moyenne chinoise, une composante cruciale leur faisait défaut : la mise en œuvre de mécanismes permettant d’inciter les familles chinoises à désormais dépenser leurs revenus dans le cadre d’une croissance discrétionnaire.

Or, l’insécurité financière et économique s’est au contraire emparée des ménages chinois, notamment en raison de la disparition à la fin des années 1990 de la politique du « bol de riz en fer » – soutien apporté à vie par l’État socialiste aux ouvriers et à leurs familles. Craignant l’avenir, ces ménages ont ainsi préféré accumuler une épargne plutôt que de dépenser leurs revenus dans les biens de consommation. Les économistes qualifient ce phénomène d’épargne de précaution. Pour les dirigeants chinois, le terme de frustration est plus approprié.

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