Asia

China’s NPC radiates growth confidence – as expected in the centenary year

Monday, March 8th, 2021

China’s still ongoing annual National Party Congress (NPC) gives a substantial number of short-term objectives and long-term strategies to the 3000 delegates. Celebrating in 2021 the 100-year anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) makes this year’s convention quite special (as I pointed at in my latest blog from February 24 on http://chinaresearch.se/ ).

Interesting details from the NPC – with obvious growth optimism    

¤  Encouraging GDP objective for 2021. Going back to my own blog source above, I felt quite sure before this year’s NPC that Prime Minister Li Keqiang would please the delegates (in Chinese:”lawmakers”) with an encouraging GDP forecast for 2021, maybe between 7 and 8%. Indeed, this range was not very far away from Prime Minister Li’s finally announced goal for 2021 – “more than 6%” in economic growth. I may regard “more than 6%” as somewhat conservative but I see this number as positive as well. Even 7-8% this year remain achievable.
Conclusion: In my view, an official GDP growth by “more than 6%” is indeed an encouraging goal despite the relative weak statistical basis from last year – and not a cautious one as initially described by many international commentators. The inflation goal of 3 % for 2021 seems to be alright as well.                                                         

¤  Comeback for long-term issues. In the past quarters, Chinese and global analysts dealt strongly with short-term issues due to the damage that had been caused by the corona crisis. During this year’s NPC, also long-term objectives for high tech, clean energy, electric cars and other ways to improve the environment were taken up. However, I miss a more promising strategy for de-carbonization. President Xi Jinping also reminded of necessary improvements of education and healthcare. Remarkably, no numeric goal for GDP has been set for the recently commenced 5-year plan. My best guess is that it will turn out being something close to 5%.    
Conclusion:
Updated yearly GDP objectives should be good enough in the future for short-term and for 5-year planning – and also for improved flexibility.

¤  Continuous priority of innovation and technology. Prime Minister Li repeated at the NPC what is widely known: “Innovation remains at the heart of China’s modernization drive. We will strengthen our science and technology to provide strategic support for China’s development”. Despite the fact that all this is expressed only verbally, China’s technological ambitions have been underlined one more time.
Conclusion: Westerners should not underestimate the Chinese ability of spreading technology both internationally and of using it at home, for power-conserving reasons as well. The Chinese want to reduce their dependence from the U.S. – also by increasing their annual R&D budget by 7% yearly between 2021 and 2025. Green development is given a lot of priority. President Xi Jinping seems to favor the creation of a green-GDP concept, too.

¤  More priority for private consumption. Also this specific strategy is not really new but it is part of the new 5-year plan. Of course, there is an intention to achieve this by more domestic production of consumption goods – supported by the political promises of reasonable increases of disposible incomes.
Conclusion: This policy strategy is obviously linked to the plan of modifying the Chinese economic model by somewhat reducing the role of exports and investments as growth factors and instead increase the share of private consumption related to GDP – probably as much as possible supported by “Made in China” (but I could not find further updated detail on this latter issue).

¤  Focus on stability. Particularly Prime Minister Li Keqiang emphasized the need of stability in many areas – for ensuring future progress in the Chinese society and economy. Among the mentioned areas were employment, the financial sector, foreign trade, investments, supply chains – and obviously Hong Kong.
Conclusion: Different risks are and remain an issue for China’s political leaders.

¤  Important changes for Hong Kong. Beijing seems to plan far-reaching changes of the election system making it impossible for opponents to the People’s Republic to be promoted to any influential political position in Hong Kong.
Conclusion: Developments in Hong Kong remain an important topic for analysis. Probably, Hong Kong will increasingly be regarded as a part of Mainland China internationally. Hong Kong appears moving to “one country / one system” considerably faster than one could expect some years ago when having read the still valid Hong Kong Basic Law. https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/images/basiclaw_full_text_en.pdf

Summary – no surprise but tightened tone against Hong Kong

Altogether, the NPC did not offer special surprises this year. Not even the relative GDP-growth optimism can be interpreted as surprising. Really notable, however, appears the widened political threats from Beijing against opponents in Hong Kong.

 

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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RCEP – benefiting from “America first”

Monday, November 16th, 2020

Only yesterday – on October 15 – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement finally was signed after eight years of complicated negotiations, altogether over 30 rounds. https://asean.org/storage/2020/11/Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement.pdf

These negotiations included the ten already co-operating ASEAN trading partners: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam and the five “deal newcomers” of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. These countries amount to as much as 2.2 billion people or around 30 percent of the global population and GDP.

Without more detailed information right now one may conclude that RCEP – after all national ratifications – will be the starting point for the largest free trade zone in the world. Initially, President Obama and the U.S. wanted to be part of the negotiations as well. This plan was shattered by President Trump and his “America first” policy; certainly not a good idea – not even for the U.S. itself.

Comments – the U.S. and the EU in a weakened position (Sweden included) 

¤ Right now: China the main winner – the U.S. and the EU the main losers.
No further explanation is needed to underline that China clearly sticks out as the most powerful economic player of the 15 RCEP countries – in regions geographically not too far away and, consequently, already China’s main trading partners when summarizing the whole RCEP area. The objective of the trade agreement is to include over 90 percent of all traded goods for free trade and roughly two thirds of all cross-border traded services according to the following official source: https://www.mti.gov.sg/-/media/MTI/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2020/11/Press-Release-on-the-Regional-Comprehensive-Economic-Partnership-Signing.pdf.

However, some applicable time horizon cannot be found in available documents. Usually, it takes quite some years until major trade agreements have come into place completely.

¤ Really “fait accompli”?
Currently, I do not see toughly pressing obstacles for the introduction and – later on – continuation of the RCEP. However, new events sometimes change things. We still do not know about the speed of the complete abolition of all the different tariffs – may be much more slowly than many experts assume today.

Furthermore: Will President (Elect) Biden work for an American joining later on which would include new negotiations? We never know. But we probably can expect that Biden will be looking for (somewhat) more relaxed relations to China –whatever this may lead to.

¤ The EU needs much more cross-border co-operation in Asia – but not with India or China.
The EU’s trade with the expanding 14 RCEP states (China excl) is, of course, much more limited than China’s. In my view, only a much more co-operative EU will have a chance of really successfully being able to compete with China in the other RCEP countries.

However, it would be wrong to see India as an alternative to the RCEP. The answer can only be RCEP and India which has been suggested. Besides, India has been invited again to join the RCEP. This is not in line with current Indian ambitions – but who knows what will happen in 10 years or so?

¤  Return to a multilateral trade treaty – indeed good news.
In recent decades China and the U.S. have developed more and more into promoters of bilateral trade agreements. Theory and research, however, prefer clearly multinational trade deals.

The RCEP finally means a step into the right policy direction!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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China and the U.S. election

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

During my many visits to China I used to get the impression that the Chinese mostly looked at the U.S. with mixed feelings – feelings that also included some kind of admiration. The American dream of developing from a poor origin to a wealthy person attracted many Chinese on micro levels. Some kind of capitalist socialism or vice versa was born in the 1990s.

Politically, China and the U.S. kept quite some distance in the new millennium all the same. Tensions continued during Bill Clinton’s presidency but his support for China’s entry into the WTO in 2001 was appreciated. This move turned out to be the main driver for China’s rise to become the largest economy in the world (in terms of total GDP and PPP), together with the simultaneously ongoing globalization. President Obama’s relations to China had a number of ups and downs as well. President Trump, finally, could be increasingly regarded as an opponent to China during the past four years.

In 1997, professor David Shambaugh wrote in Current History (September) that “China and the United States are likely to be the dominant world powers in the twenty-first century. It is imperative that these two continental giants learn to live and work together productively and cooperatively”. Altogether, the conclusion above on the two leading world powers turned out to be right – but the recommendation of working together did not really come true, particularly not in the past four years. Biden could make some difference – but probably not in a significant manner.

The Trump years of 2017-2021 – and now?

President Trumps leitmotiv of “America first” did quite some harm to China, the global economy and also to the U.S. itself, particularly due to the revival of protectionism. This is certainly a bad development. But what do the Chinese themselves feel about today’s election?

Despite many unfriendly words from the Trump-administration, the Chinese support Trump’s aversion or doubts against traditional allies such as NATO and his attempt to weaken American (Western) democracy. Chinese media also take the chance of describing the superiority of its authoritarian system, exemplified by what the official China calls the victory against the covid-19 crisis. China remains the top issue for the Chinese and certainly not the U.S. The result of the presidential election in the U.S. does not make a major difference – neither to President Xi Jinping or the Chinese people (according to my own understanding of Chinese press). However, there is no clearly visible preference for Biden either.

Competition with the U.S. will remain the keyword for the future of China – when it comes to the economy, technology, research and military power. However, in my view three possible and necessary changes may happen in the future with a President Biden: a (somewhat) stronger priority of  the environment, a (somewhat) better political predictability and a more polite style of communication between the two superpowers.

And we should not give up hope for better cooperation!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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