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Congressional Research Service, “China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States,” October 21, 2015

This Congressional Research Service report was written by Wayne M. Morrison. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. CRS is a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress. This report is RL33534.
October 21, 2015
Prior to the initiation of economic reforms and trade liberalization 36 years ago, China maintained policies that kept the economy very poor, stagnant, centrally-controlled, vastly inefficient, and relatively isolated from the global economy. Since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free market reforms in 1979, China has been among the world’s fastest-growing economies, with real annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging nearly 10% through 2014. In recent years, China has emerged as a major global economic power.
It is now the world’s largest economy (on a purchasing power parity basis), manufacturer, merchandise trader, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. The global economic crisis that began in 2008 greatly affected China’s economy. China’s exports, imports, and foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows declined, GDP growth slowed, and millions of Chinese workers reportedly lost their jobs. The Chinese government responded by implementing a $586 billion economic stimulus package and loosening monetary policies to increase bank lending. Such policies enabled China to effectively weather the effects of the sharp global fall in demand for Chinese products. However, the Chinese economy has slowed in recent years, due in part to sharp slowdowns in the growth rates of export and fixed investment. Real GDP fell from 10.4% in 2010 to 7.8% in 2012, to 7.3 % in 2014. The IMF projects that China’s real GDP growth will slow to 6.8% in 2015 and to 6.3 % in 2016. The Chinese government has attempted to steer the economy to a “new normal” of slower, but more stable and sustainable, economic growth. Yet, concerns have deepened in recent months over the health of the Chinese economy. For example, the Shanghai Composite Index fell by 43% from June 12 to August 25, 2015, despite extensive intervention by the Chinese government to halt the slide. On August 11, 2015, the Chinese government announced that the daily reference rate of the renminbi (RMB) would become more “market-oriented.” Over the next three days, the RMB depreciated by 4.4% against the dollar, leading some critics to charge that China’s goal was actually to boost exports to help stimulate the economy, which some suspect may be in worse shape than indicated by official Chinese economic statistics. Concerns over the state of the Chinese economy appear to have contributed to recent sharp volatility in global stock indexes.
The ability of China to maintain a rapidly growing economy in the long run will likely depend largely on the ability of the Chinese government to implement comprehensive economic reforms that more quickly hasten China’s transition to a free market economy; rebalance the Chinese economy by making consumer demand, rather than exporting and fixed investment, the main engine of economic growth; boost productivity and innovation; address growing income disparities; and enhance environmental protection. The Chinese government has acknowledged that its current economic growth model needs to be altered and has announced several initiatives to address various economic challenges. In November 2013, the Communist Party of China held the Third Plenum of its 18th Party Congress, which outlined a number of broad policy reforms to boost competition and economic efficiency. For example, the communique stated that the market would now play a “decisive” role in allocating resources in the economy. At the same time, however, the communique emphasized the continued important role of the state sector in China’s economy. In addition, many foreign firms have complained that the business climate in China has worsened in recent years. Thus, it remains unclear how committed the Chinese government is to implementing new comprehensive economic reforms.