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China’s Macroeconomic Imbalances: Causes and Consequences

  • Knight, John



  • Wang, Wei


In recent years China has experienced two forms of extreme macroeconomic imbalance: an expenditure imbalance in the sense of very high investment and very low consumption, giving rise to rapid capital accumulation; and an imbalance between expenditure and production, producing external imbalance, i.e. a huge surplus on the current account of the balance of payments. Both imbalances imply a low rate of time discount by both government and society: consumption in the present is forgone in favour of consumption in the future. The paper examines how these imbalances came about, and goes on to consider whether they can be sustained and how they might be redressed. There is no evidence that the rapid capital accumulation has reduced the rate of profit on capital and thus the incentive to invest. However, persistent external imbalance poses a threat to investment if it generates excess liquidity and asset bubbles. The current account surplus rose remarkably in the years 2004-7. This was associated with exogenous increases in competiveness and in saving, both attributable to the economic reform policies. On current policies, the surplus is likely to rise again once the world economy recovers from its recession. This poses three sorts of problems, each of which is examined in turn: difficulties for macroeconomic stabilization policies; risk of capital loss on the foreign exchange holdings; and the threat of retaliation by China's trading partners. A combination of internal and external policies will be required to redress the imbalance.

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Paper provided by Bank of Finland, Institute for Economies in Transition in its series BOFIT Discussion Papers with number 15/2011.

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Length: 54 pages
Date of creation: 21 Jun 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:bofitp:2011_015
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  1. Marcos Chamon & Eswar Prasad, 2008. "Why are Saving Rates of Urban Households in China Rising?," IMF Working Papers 08/145, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Shang-Jin Wei & Xiaobo Zhang, 2011. "The Competitive Saving Motive: Evidence from Rising Sex Ratios and Savings Rates in China," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(3), pages 511 - 564.
  3. Anthony J. Makin, 2007. "Does China's Huge External Surplus Imply an Undervalued Renminbi?," China & World Economy, Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, vol. 15(3), pages 89-102.
  4. John Knight & Sai Ding, 2008. "Why has China Grown so Fast? The Role of Structural Change," Economics Series Working Papers 415, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  5. Prema-chandra Athukorala, 2007. "The Rise of China and East Asian Export Performance: Is the Crowding-out Fear Warranted?," Departmental Working Papers 2007-10, The Australian National University, Arndt-Corden Department of Economics.
  6. Chong-En Bai & Chang-Tai Hsieh & Yingyi Qian, 2006. "The Return to Capital in China," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 37(2), pages 61-102.
  7. Alessandra Guariglia & Xiaoxuan Liu & Lina Song, . "Internal Finance and Growth: Microeconometric Evidence on Chinese Firms," Discussion Papers 09/11, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
  8. Xinhua He & Yongfu Cao, 2007. "Understanding High Saving Rate in China," China & World Economy, Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, vol. 15(1), pages 1-13.
  9. John Knight & Sai Ding, 2009. "Why does China invest so much?," Economics Series Working Papers 441, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  10. Robert Koopman & Zhi Wang & Shang-Jin Wei, 2008. "How Much of Chinese Exports is Really Made In China? Assessing Domestic Value-Added When Processing Trade is Pervasive," NBER Working Papers 14109, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Ronald McKinnon & Gunther Schnabl, 2009. "The Case for Stabilizing China's Exchange Rate: Setting the Stage for Fiscal Expansion," China & World Economy, Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, vol. 17(1), pages 1-32.
  12. Ding, Sai & Knight, John, 2009. "Can the augmented Solow model explain China's remarkable economic growth? A cross-country panel data analysis," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 432-452, September.
  13. Sai Ding & John Knight, 2011. "Why has China Grown So Fast? The Role of Physical and Human Capital Formation," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 73(2), pages 141-174, 04.
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