Economic decoupling theory has no weight 2008-01-11 12:11:20   Print

    BEIJING, Jan. 11 -- An opinion gaining popularity holds that the Chinese economy, even the emerging economies as a whole, is decoupling from the U.S. economy. The theory is based on the belief that the relationship between the Chinese economy, and the economies of emerging market countries, with that of the U.S. economy is no longer as close as it was.

    Judging from the current situation in and out of China, such an opinion is actually flawed. Worse, it could create a false sense of security.

    Measured by the growth in GDP, the U.S. economy has remained low for years. And its GDP growth even dropped below 2 percent last year due to the impact of the subprime crisis.

    By contrast, the Chinese economy has been on a strong upward momentum for the last decade. GDP growth in China will probably exceed 11 percent for 2007.

    The contrast seems to be a supporting point for the decoupling theory, but it does not hold water.

    The low growth in the U.S. GDP is actually caused by shrinkage in its domestic investments. But domestic consumption, another economic engine has not slowed.

    U.S. consumption has and is likely to keep acting as a decisive factor in Chinese exports. And that link obviously goes against the decoupling theory.

    Believers in the theory often cite the increasingly close trade ties among the eastern Asian countries as solid proof for the weakening connection of the region with the U.S. economy.

    But they have obviously overlooked one factor - the closer trade ties within eastern Asia has been caused by the shifting roles of these countries in the industrial chain.

    In the past several years, especially after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, they are more specified in their own sectors of manufacturing according to their own competitive advantage, so they have to develop industrial cooperation featuring frequent trade ties.

    Meanwhile, these countries do not see a significant boost in their domestic consumption. Instead, they depend more heavily upon demand from outside the region, especially from the markets in Europe and the U.S.

    This dependence brings about a huge inflow of money to the region, which in turn, means gigantic foreign exchange reserves for these countries.

    The decoupling theory is a false one also because it does not take into account the reality of intensifying globalization.

    Every economy is now an integrated part of the global economy. On one hand, this globalization garners more trade and on the other, it also faces more risks and uncertainties.

    It is unrealistic to embrace globalization and enjoy its benefits, and expect no potential threats.

    In the face of the decoupling theory and its supporters, the decision-makers should be vigilant to the possible impacts on Chinese exports and even development of the Chinese economy once the U.S. economy continues to weaken.

    Consumption is gaining more weight in the U.S. economy and it contributes about 72 percent to its GDP.

    It is not propped up by higher average income or fuller employment, but by a robust consumption in property and cars encouraged by low interest rates. If the subprime crisis is not contained or even escalates, consumption, especially those made with mortgage loans, might drop, depressing the U.S. economy.

    With net exports contributing about one-third to China's economic growth, the country will certainly feel the effects if the U.S. economy rapidly slows.

    Of course, it is a bit early to judge the global economy in 2008. If the measures taken by the U.S. government and the EU countries to curb the negative effects of the subprime crises work well, the panic in the financial markets would be eased and the global economy may only see a minor obstacle to its growth.

    The 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars foreign exchange reserves of China would be very helpful in guarding against a potential financial crisis. With sound growth in the government's income, the Chinese administrative would also have enough leverage to switch to a proactive fiscal policy if exports stop growing or even drops.

    China is one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, and it might also become a prime victim once the global economy turns sluggish. For that reason, we must be vigilant against a false sense of security forged by the decoupling theory.

    By He Fan

    The author is a researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the China Academy of Social Sciences

    (Source: China Daily)

Editor: Gao Ying
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