LONDON – One question has dominated the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting this year in Peru: Will China’s economic downturn trigger a new financial crisis just as the world is putting the last one to bed? But the assumption underlying that question – that China is now the global economy’s weakest link – is highly suspect.
China certainly experienced a turbulent summer, owing to three factors: economic weakness, financial panic, and the policy response to these problems. While none on its own would have threatened the world economy, the danger stemmed from a self-reinforcing interaction among them: weak economic data leads to financial turmoil, which induces policy blunders that in turn fuel more financial panic, economic weakness, and policy mistakes.
Such self-reinforcing financial feedback is much more powerful in transmitting global economic contagion than ordinary commercial or trade exposures, as the world learned in 2008-2009. The question now is whether the vicious circle that began in China over the summer will continue.
A sensible answer must distinguish between financial perceptions and economic reality. China’s growth slowdown is not in itself surprising or alarming. As the IMF noted, China’s growth rate has been declining steadily for five years – from 10.6% in 2010 to a projected rate of 6.8% this year and 6.3% in 2016.