China: Size Matters

By Steven Barnett

(Version in  中文 and  Español)

Mongolia’s economy grew nearly 12 percent last year, the United States around 2 percent. So Mongolia grew around 6 times faster than the United States, yet of course the United States contributed more to GDP growth—over 150 times more. Why, because size matters.

Let’s apply this logic to China. A bigger but somewhat slower growing China of the future will contribute about as much to global demand as the smaller but faster growing China of before. This is arithmetic: An economy that is twice as big can grow by ½ as much and contribute the same to global demand. By the way, China today is more than twice as big as it was a decade ago.

So, the good news is, even with slower growth, China will continue to be an engine of global output. Indeed, an even bigger engine than before.

How big is China?

Big. China is the world’s second largest economy. Based on PPP exchange rates, China increased from 6 percent of global output in 1995, to 15 percent last year (see chart). Or, if you prefer using market exchange rates, the corresponding rise in China’s share of global GDP is from 2 percent in 1995 to 12 percent in 2013.

China Size Matters 3

When will China surpass the US? In 2018, based on PPP exchange rates. Later using market exchange rates—by 2019, the last year of our projections, China’s economy would be equivalent to about 64 percent of US GDP.

China is big but not rich

China is the world’s most populous country. So per person, GDP in China is US$ 6,500, compared to US$53,100 in the US (see chart). Even the most developed cities in China do not approach the income levels of advanced economies. This underscores that China still has considerable room to grow. Indeed, as the IMF’s Managing Director noted in her recent address at the China Development Forum, China has its eyes fixed firmly on its next destination—aiming for “higher quality, more inclusive, and more sustainable” growth.

China Size Matters 2

Size matters…contribution to global demand

The chart shows how much China is contributing to global growth. In 2003-7, China averaged 11.7 percent growth whereas in the coming five years (2015-19) we expect growth to average ‘only’ 6.8 percent. Yet, because China’s economy is much bigger, the average contribution to global growth will actually increase slightly—rising from 1.0 (2003-7) to 1.1 (2015-19) percentage points.

Size matters. Thus, we forecast China to contribute more than before to global output, even though growth is slowing. For exporters, this means China’s expanding market will continue to be a great source of future customers.

China Size Matters 1

And, in the end, the world economy benefits the most from sustainable growth in China. As argued before, the world should welcome the slowdown in China to a more sustainable growth rate. Welcome, because it means much higher income in the future. And, as shown above, it means that China will continue to be an engine of global growth.

2 Responses

  1. Really good article, we can really see how big is China nowadays and guess that this country will certainly be more and more powerfull in the future

  2. In order to transition to a more sustainable growth pattern, China should overcome huge challenges — increasing consumption while decreasing inefficient investment in construction, moving up on the value chain in manufacturing, more investment in long-term public goods such as clean air and water — which are all intractable because they imply a reversal of successful patterns in recent past. Also, the Chinese bureaucracy is quickly developing an entrenched culture which would discourage decision-making for project approvals, administering regulations. In nominal terms, China’s GDP will not catch up with US GDP for a long time. Finally, with Japan having stalled at 70 per cent of GDP per capita of the United States and Korea and Taiwan similarly at 60~65 per cent, it is entirely feasible to see China’s per capital GDP fail to cross 50 per cent of America’s.

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