专家对2023年中国经济的预测 - 2023-12-04


Editor's note: China's economic growth has supported global economic recovery, given that China is on a steady growth path among the world's major economies this year. Although challenges including a complicated external environment pose risks to recovery, China's economy has resilience and potential. Three experts offer their insights to China Daily.

Worries about China's reform unwarranted

China's uneven recovery this year has raised the question of whether the Chinese economy is losing steam. Many observers believe that a lack of reform is one of the key reasons for the country's sluggish recovery. The geopolitical tension between China and the United States has only aggravated the situation, with international investors worrying whether China will continue to open up to the outside world. However, neither of these concerns is warranted if one scrutinizes what is happening in China.

China's uneven recovery is a short-term phenomenon related to policy choices. In the first half of this year, the government refrained from taking progressive measures to stimulate the economy. Since July, however, the government has geared up its fiscal measures. Most noticeably, restrictions on home purchases have been lifted or reduced, and lending has been resumed for qualified developers; the central government issued new debts of 1 trillion yuan ($140 billion) for local fiscal spending and allocated local governments 1.5 trillion yuan of government bonds to swap for their short-term commercial debts; and 2.7 trillion yuan of government bonds scheduled for the next year have been moved forward to this year. Those measures have paid off; the profitability of enterprises has greatly improved since August.

On the international front, Chinese policymakers have always sought to establish a peaceful and open international environment for the country's development, and the recent meeting of President Xi Jinping with US President Joe Biden has been a major effort by the world's two largest economies to moderate the tension between them.

Back home, the government has continued to roll out new policies to open the country to the outside world, its recent announcement of a unilateral visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from six countries on a one-year trial basis being one example.

The decline of foreign direct investment this year has more to do with China's uneven recovery than with its policy toward FDI. A large part of the direct investment inflow into China is the reinvestment of earnings by foreign companies that are already operating in China. They behave more like China's domestic private companies. But private investment has declined this year, so it is not surprising to find that FDI in the country has also declined. There is sufficient reason to believe that with the recovery of the economy, private investment will grow again.

In the short run, the Chinese economy follows the pace of government policy. Much of the talk about China's economy wrongly attributes its short-term fluctuations to so-called "long-term structural problems", particularly the lack of reform. But China's economic institutions have already undergone thorough reform and now it is time for China to stabilize those institutions. In fact, what China needs to do is to reinforce the reform achievements by deepening the reforms, and that is exactly what it is doing.

Most of China's economic reforms were undertaken in the 1990s. Price reform was concluded in 1994 when the dual tracks of the exchange rate were unified. This reform sealed the end of economic planning. Enterprise reform was one of the toughest reforms. SOEs have been reserved for strategic sectors, while private economy booms in many other sectors and accounts for about 60 percent of China's GDP. Together with enterprise reform, the financial sector underwent a complete overhaul. Bad loans were either written off or swapped for equity, and banks were recapitalized. Accession to the World Trade Organization concluded the decade of reform and set China on the road to its economic boom in the 2000s.

The reforms in the 1990s laid the foundation for China's economic institutions today. This was why no major reforms have happened in the last 20 years. It is time for China to consolidate those historical reforms by perfecting these institutions so they can keep pace with economic developments over the next 20 years or longer.

Chinese socialism has brought tremendous economic success to the country; yet it is still in the making. SOEs are vital for the Chinese economy, but the private economy plays an increasingly important role, especially in creating jobs. At the level of wealth distribution, common prosperity will be a central pursuit over the coming decades. But how should common prosperity be pursued? Chinese policymakers are obliged to explore an answer to this question based on the realities of the country. With explorations to find the answer, people's expectations can be stabilized and their confidence in the Chinese economy bolstered.

The author is Yao Yang, Boya Chair Professor, China Center for Economic Research and the National School of Development, Peking University.

Techno-industrial upgrade fuels development

Farmers use farm-specific drones to help spray pesticide in Bozhou, Anhui province, on April 19. 

About a century ago, Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese national hero and a forerunner of China's democratic revolution, penned a prescient letter to Henry Ford, the founding father of the so-called second industrial revolution.

Sun implored Ford to visit China, go to the south of the country, and support China's industrialization. Sun prophetically argued that if China remained economically underdeveloped, it would become an object of exploitation and international strife for the Great Powers, possibly precipitating the next world war. Regrettably, Henry Ford rejected Sun's invitation and never shared his formidable expertise in support of China's industrialization. The years that followed validated Sun's foresight as Chinese weakness invited Imperial Japan's aggression.

Fast forward to 2018. Elon Musk, arguably one of the world's leading entrepreneurs and the founding father of the electric vehicles revolution, is feeling confident about China. Unlike Henry Ford, who saw no future in China in the 1920s, Musk has repeatedly expressed his confidence that the wave of the future may indeed be found in China.

Musk is not an amateur prognosticator. He has witnessed the dynamism of Chinese mobilization and industrialization from up close. His Shanghai Gigafactory began operating from scratch in just 9 months (Tesla's Berlin Gigafactory took 3 years), helping Tesla produce its flagship Model 3 during a period of international trepidation over the company's negative cash flow. With the Shanghai Gigafactory unleashing its productive might, Tesla not only demonstrated profitability but also ascended to become the world's most valuable automobile company.

But what changed between the China of the 1920s and China today, or between Sun's failed plea to Henry Ford and Musk's unbending attraction for China? The first catalyst has been national unity established in 1949. Sun, the great patriot, however much he struggled, never managed to fully neuter the influence of centrifugal forces and foreign coercion. But in 1949, for the first time since the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Chinese people stood up as one.

The second catalyst has been the visionary reformist leadership that opened up China to the world. Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in December 1978 espoused openness and set the foundations for the most significant transformation of any modern nation since the advent of the industrial revolution.

Deng's adage, "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white as long as she catches mice," encapsulates the essence of pragmatic reform and opening-up. Over the next 40 years, China witnessed a miracle economic growth, with GDP soaring by an average of 9.8 percent annually.

Yet, more substantial perhaps is China's qualitative shift from a low-end manufacturing economy to a high-tech industrial behemoth. A decade ago, my Chinese classmates at Tsinghua University dreamed that China should not only produce low-end iPhone components but contribute to the design and high-value segments. China then accounted for about 3.6 percent to an iPhone's value. Chinese suppliers today contribute more than 25 percent to an iPhone's value. Moreover, with Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo, China has created its own mobile hardware/software ecosystem that no other economy can match.

The automobile sector further attests to China's qualitative transformation. Just five years ago, Chinese cars stood no chance against their European rivals. Now, Chinese EVs are becoming increasingly competitive in the global market. In 2023 China is projected to surpass Japan and become the world's largest automobile exporter. Meanwhile, China's industrial success across the renewable sector is unambiguous. From batteries to solar panels to wind turbines, the country is leading by a large margin.

China's industrial prowess becomes evident in the United States' struggles to effectively disentangle its supply chains through either near-shoring or friend-shoring strategies. Insights from the Bank of International Settlements underscore that the new extended supply chains have incorporated intermediary nations but have failed to diminish reliance on China. Simply put, China's industrial competitiveness is unmatched.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman once declared that China would find it hard to shift from "perspiration to inspiration." Its low-wage, labor-intensive economic model would make China a world factory, but Western capitalists would reap the lion's share of profits. According to this argument China was doomed to be a laggard in industry and innovation only reproducing designs and ideas sourced in Western Europe and the United States.

Krugman got it wrong. Recent qualitative developments in the Chinese economy may signal the dawn of an era of inspiration. However, as China climbs the value chain, the "geopolitical contract" may have been shaken. In a key official document, Chinese thinkers have echoed Sun's century-old contention that the basis of national strength is technological innovation capacity, and a nation with weak innovation is at peril.

The authors of the 2015 innovation-driven strategy proclaimed that the main reason China was weak and preyed upon in the modern era was because China had missed out on successive technological revolutions. No wonder the top Chinese leader has reiterated the importance of breaking the technological bottlenecks and advocated for innovation-driven development.

Forty-five years since Deng's reform and opening-up, the meteoric ascent of Chinese industry and technology has agitated old industrial powerhouses. Paradoxically, however, this unease might serve as an opportunity for these nations to mirror China's strategic response in 1978. Rather than succumbing to protectionism and insularity they can opt for reform and opening-up.

The author is Vasilis Trigkas, a visiting assistant professor at the Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University.

FDI conducive to forming virtuous cycle

The skyline of Beijing. 

Just as Chinese leaders have repeatedly emphasized China always insists on reform and opening-up. Since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the country has steadfastly pursued high-level opening-up to the world, achieving significant milestones in attracting and utilizing foreign capital.

In the first three quarters of 2023, China has maintained its position at the forefront of global foreign investment, with actual utilization showing a stable and positive trend, marking a promising start for economic development.

To better absorb and utilize foreign capital, China needs to enhance the appeal of its huge market and adjust the structure of foreign investment.

It is crucial to attract and utilize foreign capital from developed Western countries, balance the overall structure of foreign investment, diversify the investment risks, and strengthen links with the global supply chains.

The share of foreign direct investment from Western developed nations in China's total has been declining. Although the investment from the European Union in China increased by 92.2 percent in 2022, the newly established enterprises by EU countries in China only accounted for 7.6 percent of the total in the same year, with utilized foreign capital making up 6.2 percent. Therefore it is imperative to attract and utilize capital from Europe and the United States.

What's more, it is imperative to facilitate gradual shift of foreign investment to central, western, and northeastern China, optimizing regional layout and promoting coordinated regional development.

Currently, foreign investments in China are heavily concentrated in the economically advanced eastern coastal areas. The transfer of foreign investment to inland regions faces multiple challenges. This situation weakens the contributions of foreign investment to economic growth in China's central, western, and northeastern areas, exacerbating regional wealth disparities, and hindering the coordinated development of China's regional economies.

Efforts to guide foreign investment towards inland regions should focus on three key areas:

Implementing the 2022 Catalogue of Encouraged Industries for Foreign Investment to incentivize foreign investment in environmentally friendly industries in central, western, and northeastern regions, as well as Hainan province;

Leveraging international transportation channels such as the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor and the China-Europe Railway Express, while advancing infrastructure in the aforementioned regions, so as to reduce the trade and logistics costs;

Encouraging collaborations between foreign-invested enterprises in China's eastern and inland regions, through mechanisms such as value and benefit sharing, to foster cooperative industrial transfer.

Foreign investment not only propels direct economic growth in China, it also sparks a ripple effect, driving technological advancements and innovation. This, in turn, boosts domestic product and process innovations, fostering growth in both consumption and product quality. As the scale of foreign investment in China continues to expand, it becomes crucial to blend the strategies of "attracting investment" and "attracting intelligence". This dual approach aims to enhance the quality of foreign capital utilization, maximize learning effects, and strengthen the processes of introduction, cooperation, digestion, absorption and re-innovation.

China should incentivize foreign-invested enterprises to set up R&D centers in the country. These centers, integral to China's technological innovation ecosystem, can leverage the spillover effects of foreign investment, promoting deeper technological collaboration and openness.

It should also seek to foster collaborations between foreign-invested enterprises and domestic companies in joint technological research, development, and industrial applications. Aligned with domestic consumer demand, this would promote synergy in innovation, accelerating the iterative evolution of traditional consumer goods and advancing forward-looking functional research to meet diverse domestic market needs.

Foreign-invested enterprises should also be encouraged to boost the quality and capacity of service offerings.

Data from the Ministry of Commerce reveal that in 2022, China attracted a substantial $131.59 billion in foreign investment in the services sector, constituting nearly 70 percent of the total foreign investment in the country. Of this, newly established foreign-invested enterprises in high-tech services reached 10,019, with an investment of $50.14 billion, accounting for 26.5 percent of the total foreign investment. As China's economy rapidly expands and urbanization progresses, the demand for services continues to soar, attracting significant foreign investment into this sector. It is imperative to encourage foreign-invested enterprises to enhance the quality and expand the capacity of their services, creating more domestic market demand through high-quality service offerings.

Reforms should be accelerated in the existing free trade zones and lead pilot projects in the free trade ports. Comprehensive trials should be carried out aimed at expanding the openness of the service industry and aligning it with international trade rules, so as to actively construct an open service system compatible with high international standards.

Market access restrictions for foreign investment in the service industry should be further relaxed, and the role of foreign investment as a bridge connecting China with international markets should be strengthened to ensure smooth dual-circulation.

Revising and expanding the Catalogue of Encouraged Industries for Foreign Investment can be considered to sensibly reduce the negative list for foreign investment in the service industry; channel foreign investment into key modern services with higher market access restrictions, addressing the gaps in the supply of quality goods and services in the domestic market, and promoting effective alignment of supply and demand in the service industry to better cater to market needs.

Looking ahead, despite the ongoing complexities of the global investment landscape, it is believed that as the international economic environment stabilizes, the scale and structure of foreign investment in China will continue to optimize as China's business environment further improves, and the advantages of the country's market size and complete industry chains become more pronounced. This optimization will not only drive market demand through superior supply but also fuel consumption growth and upgrades, unlocking the potential of the domestic market.

The author is Liu Qing, deputy director and professor of the National Academy of Development and Strategy, Renmin University of China.

Source: China Daily





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