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Brian Till
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Beijing's Rebirth Amid Crisis

Comment

In 10 years, books on the financial collapse will lead with facts about China. Eventually, the text will get around to explaining that failed oversight in American markets brought the implosion to its height, but the thesis of the narrative will center upon the success of tightly managed macroeconomics, massive internal investment, and revisions made to an already successful system in a time of great turmoil. China, in short, will be the winner among losers when we look back upon these years of unrest.

China has laid out a massive stimulus, though its exact extent is difficult to ascertain. Official statements put the outlay at $585 billion over two years. As opposed to the U.S. and Europe, which find themselves battling to deal with massive collapsed asset bubbles and failed banks, China is rather dealing with the collapse of its export market. China has long been the outlet-chain-shopping-mall to America's credit-driven consumerism.

Thus, for the Chinese regime, the game, to some extent, is a matter of waiting. Can it keep its citizens placated while it awaits the resurgence of American and European demand for cheap goods? It's also troubled by the fear that U.S. demand may not return to pre-collapse levels, as credit will be more tightly controlled in coming years.

The answer, I believe, is yes, and over the course of the next several years, I think we'll see China make an important jump. Rather than merely accruing foreign currency reserves and surpluses — because the economy will continue to grow, despite the global slowdown — Beijing will reinvest in the nation, astoundingly so, through public works programs that will return a massive migrant labor force back to work, and keep recent graduates from sitting idle and growing frustrated — a rebuilding of the kingdom.

Those that argue China needs 8 percent growth to keep unrest from spreading, whose ranks include Chinese leaders themselves, should be reminded that the regime — for the first time in a long time, with the exception being perhaps the Olympics — will be thrilled by the window to the outside world that the Internet and mass telecoms now afford.

If the Party's greatest fear is social unrest, parallel American outrage and suffering are perhaps the greatest pacifiers. As long as it's clear the party is handling the collapse better than Russia and other titans, it shouldn't have to dread the possibility of its own demise.

Chinese banks gave out new loans in January and February alone that totaled half of 2008's lending, an indication that the government recognizes the role it must play self-fueling the economy in the absence of raging foreign markets.

China's early moves regarding the stimulus are pulling in the wrong direction, though. Its first strikes have dumped resources almost exclusively into state ventures, as opposed to those in the private sector, which has been the largest agent of growth in recent years. The Economic Observer, a pro-business Chinese weekly, claims that 80 percent of job growth in recent years is attributable to private enterprise. The nation must create 9 million jobs per year to accommodate its ever-growing population and pool of university graduates.

China will also have to expect further drops in U.S. and European consumption. The current unemployment rate is just above half of the U.S.'s 8.6 percent, but should be expected to increase substantially. Part of the problem with the Chinese model thus far, and an arena in which the regime can gain tremendous credibility with the population if it moves with efficiency, exists in regard to the lack of a social safety net. The engineering and implementation of such massive works will be tremendous opportunity for job creation in itself, but will also add to the long-term viability of the state.

For students of the Chinese machine, the tipping point has always hinged upon a question of conversion: Can the behemoth economy move beyond being a churning global producer to lift its working class to become consumers as well as manufacturers? Will domestic demand ever offset even a share of what the kingdom produces? Hu Jintao certainly hoped that grappling with this problem would be many years down the line, and it may still be, but China can — and must — take major steps now to fuel its own machine, and no longer shy from the private sector.

Brian Till, one of the nation's youngest syndicated columnists, is a research fellow for the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington. He can be contacted at till@newamerica.net. To find out more about the author and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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