China’s debt problems have emerged so much more rapidly and severely this year than in the past that a growing number of analysts believe that this may be the year that China’s economy breaks. There is no question that China will have a difficult adjustment, but it is likely to take the form of a long process rather than a sudden crisis.
In most economies, GDP growth is a measure of economic output generated by the performance of the underlying economy. In China, however, Beijing sets annual GDP growth targets it expects to meet. Turning GDP growth into an economic input, rather than an output, radically changes its meaning and interpretation.
If local governments and state-owned enterprises in China systematically invest in projects that are not economically justified, to the extent that these projects are not correctly marked to market, China’s reported GDP will be overstated by that amount, as will its total wealth.
China’s disproportionate demand for iron is the result of its investment-driven growth model. In considering how Chinese adjustment will affect Australia, one must consider global savings imbalances.
Policies that affect the savings rate of a small country can have more-or-less predictable domestic impacts because the global economy is so large that domestic policies are not affected by external constraints. But with a large economy, the analysis changes.