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Congressional Research Service, "China's Economic Conditions," December 11, 2009

This CRS report was written by Wayne M. Morrison, specialist in Asian Trade and Finance.
November 9, 2012

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Since the initiation of economic reforms and trade liberalization 30 years ago, China has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and has emerged as a major economic and trade power. China’s rapid economic growth has sharply improved Chinese living standards and helped raise hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. Trade and foreign investment flows have been major factors in China’s booming economy. In 2008 China, was the world’s second largest merchandise exporter and third largest importer. Over half of China’s trade is conducted by foreign-invested firms in China. In 2008, foreign direct investment (FDI) in China totaled $92 billion, making it the destination for FDI among developing economies. The combination of large trade surpluses, FDI flows, and large-scale purchases of foreign currency (especially dollars) has helped make China the world’s largest holder of foreign exchange reserves at $2.3 trillion.  

The global economic crisis began to impact China’s economy in late 2008. After growing by 13% in 2007, China’s real GDP slowed to 9.0% in 2008 and to 7.1% in the first half of 2009 (year-on-year basis). China’s trade and inflows of FDI diminished sharply, and millions of workers reportedly lost their jobs. The Chinese government has sought to boost the economy by implementing a $586 billion economic stimulus package (largely aimed at infrastructure projects), establishing easy money policies to boost banking lending, and providing assistance to various industries. Such policies have helped stabilize China’s economy; real GDP is expected to grow by over 8% in 2009—far higher than the expected growth of any other major economy.  

Despite the relatively positive outlook for its economy, China faces a number of difficult challenges that, if not addressed, could undermine its future economic growth and stability. These include pervasive government corruption, an inefficient banking system, over-dependence on exports and fixed investment for growth, the lack of rule of law, severe pollution, and widening income disparities. The Chinese government has indicated that it intends to create a “harmonious society” over the coming years that would promote more balanced economic growth and address a number of economic and social ills.  

China’s economy and economic policies are of major concern to many U.S. policymakers. On the one hand, U.S. consumers, exporters, and investors have generally benefitted from China’s rapid economic and trade growth. China’s large holdings of U.S. securities have helped keep U.S. interest rates relatively low. Some contend that China has a large stake in ensuring the continuance of a liberalized global trading system. On the other hand, the surge in U.S. imports of Chinese products has put competitive pressures on various U.S. industries. Many U.S. policymakers have argued that China maintains a number of economic policies that violate its commitments in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and/or are harmful to U.S. economic interests, such as its currency policy. Concerns have also been raised over China’s rising demand for energy and raw materials in terms of the impact that demand may have on world prices, Chinese efforts to purchase energy and raw materials assets around the world, and the growing level of pollution and greenhouse gases that has resulted from China’s growing energy needs. China has been pursuing free trade agreements around the world, especially in Asia. This has raised concerns that China might try to promote a greater Asian trading area that would exclude the United States, and thus possibly diminish U.S. economic power and influence in the region.

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