Paul Lachine

The Chinese Mirror

As the world begins to grapple with the creation of a new economic order, the moderating role of a third party in conflicts between the US and China will be extremely important. It is a role that will fall to Japan for Asian-Pacific issues, but to European countries on global issues.

TOKYO – The closing decade of the twentieth century offered a crystal ball for anyone peering into the future of the Asia-Pacific region. Japan’s economy, once the region’s leader, was “lost” after its asset bubble burst, whereas China overcame the economic stagnation that followed the Tiananmen Square crisis of 1989 to achieve its current path of strong growth. The debate raging 10 years ago about China’s rapid growth – whether it represents a danger or an opportunity – has now settled into broad agreement that wider regional development would be impossible without it.

Further geo-political implications for the region and the world follow from three key changes in China. The first concerns the pattern of Chinese economic growth, which so far has been achieved mainly by rapid increases in factor inputs – labor, capital, and energy. But recent research suggests that about one-third of China’s economic growth comes from technological progress, or from the increase in total factor productivity. In other words, China’s growth pattern is becoming similar to that of industrialized economies, suggesting that growth will be increasingly balanced.

The second transformation is the substantial appreciation of the renminbi that seems inevitable in the coming years. Today, given the importance of exports to China’s economy, its government is reluctant to permit a major revaluation, despite strong pressure by foreign governments to allow the renminbi to appreciate in line with the country’s huge trade surplus. But Chinese officials know that renminbi appreciation is also in China’s interest, as they seek to dampen inflationary pressures. China’s government therefore appears ready to allow the renminbi to appreciate, the question being how fast.

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