Sweeping economic reform initiated by China President Xi Jinping in November 2013 marked a turning point for the world’s second biggest economy. If implemented fully, China’s potential GDP growth can be sustained at 6 percent through 2020. One risk: Falling short of that growth rate could result in growth at half that projection, or worse, leading to a new economic crisis, according to a new study.
Dan Rosen, author of a report for the Asia Society Policy Institute, argues that China’s growth model is no longer working. The drivers that contributed to China’s post-1978 growth are weakening, with existing investments showing diminished returns and overall total-factor productivity, or TFP, falling. TFP is an economic term that broadly measures efficiency using input factors such as labor and capital. “Demographic dividends propelled China through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, but the labor force is now at its largest and is poised to shrink,” he writes.
Yet Rosen said China has not exhausted its growth potential. He forecasts decades of solid growth if President Xi can pull off bold economic reform. No small task.
“We conclude that the overhaul is well conceived and showing movement, and that if fully implemented can sustain growth at 6% through 2020,” Rosen told the Global Markets Forum. “Keeping GDP at or above 6% though 2020 delivers a $14.4 trillion Chinese GDP, which supports $10 trillion in two-way financial flows and a Chinese trade deficit thanks to greater imports. That’s great for the region and great for the global outlook.”
Rosen has been analyzing China’s economy for about two decades, first at the Peterson Institute, then at the White House/National Security Council and most recently at the Rhodium Group, a research and advisory group he co-founded.
“On the important elements, first is to streamline responsibility for implementing reform in the president’s hands — in Xi Jinping’s, ” he said. “The previous, committee approach was no longer working,” he said. China’s leadership also needs “to redefine what functions government should and should not by playing.”
Rosen also identified three main drivers of past growth: capital stock deepening, labor growth and increases for total-factor productivity. “Capital growth can no longer deliver more than 4% annual boost today and 3% in 2020 at best. Labor force growth can’t do better than 0% in 2020. That leaves TFP. With reform, they can eke out another 3% in 2020 — so 6% potential GDP growth total,” he said.