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China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States

CRS – China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States, Wayne M. Morrison, Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance. December 17, 2013

“The rapid rise of China as a major economic power within a time span of about threedecades is often described by analysts as one of the greatest economic success stories in modern times. From 1979 (when economic reforms began) to 2012, China’s real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average annual rate of nearly 10%. It is estimated that to date 500 million people in China have been raised out of extreme poverty. China has emerged asa major global economic power. It is now the world’s largest manufacturer, merchandise exporter, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. China is currently the second-largest economy after the United States, and some analysts predict that it could become the largest within the next fiveyears or so. On a per capita basis (a common measurement of a nation’s standard of living),however, China is significantly less developed than the United States. China’s rapid economic growth has led to a substantial increase in bilateral commercial ties with the United States. According to U.S. trade data, total trade between the two countries grew from $5 billion in 1980 to $536 billion in 2012. China is currently the United States’ second-largest trading partner, its third-largest export market, and its largest source of imports. Many U.S. companies have extensive operations in China in order to sell their products in the booming Chinese market and to take advantage of lower-cost labor for export-oriented manufacturing. These operations have helped some U.S. firms to remain internationally competitive and have supplied U.S. consumers with a variety of low-cost goods. China’s large-scale purchases of U.S. Treasury securities (which totaled $1.3 trillion as of October 2013) have enabled the federal government to fund its budget deficits, which help keep U.S. interest rates relatively low. However, the emergence of China as a major economic superpower has raised concern among many U.S. policymakers. Some claim that China uses unfair trade practices (such as an undervalued currency and subsidies given to domestic producers) to flood U.S. markets with low-cost goods, and that such practices threaten American jobs, wages, and living standards. Others contend that China’s growing use of industrial policies to promote and protect certain domestic Chinese industries firms favored by the government, and its failure to take effective action against widespread infringement of U.S. intellectual property rights (IPR) in China, threaten to undermine the competitiveness of U.S. IP-intensive industries. In addition, while China has become a large and growing market for U.S. exports, critics contend that numerous trade and investment barriers limit opportunities for U.S. firms to sell in China, or force them to set up production facilities in China as the price of doing business there. Other concerns relating to China’s economic growth include its growing demand for energy and raw materials and its emergence as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. The Chinese government views a growing economy as vital to maintaining social stability. However, China faces a number of major economic challenges which could dampen future growth, including distortive economic policies that have resulted in over-reliance on fixed investment and exports for economic growth (rather than on consumer demand), government support for state-owned firms, a weak banking sy stem, widening income gaps, growing pollution, and the relative lack of the rule of law in China.”

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