Stephen S Roach
In economic policy, as in most other areas, actions speak louder than words. By cutting its benchmark policy interest rates, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) has underscored the tactical focus of the government's stabilisation policy, which aims to put a floor of around 7% on GDP growth.
Early this month, senior US and Chinese officials will gather in Beijing for the sixth Strategic and Economic Dialogue. With bilateral frictions mounting on a number of fronts — including cyber security, territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, and currency policy — the summit offers an opportunity for a serious reconsideration of the relationship between the world’s two most powerful countries.
China’s currency, the renminbi, has been weakening in recent months, resurrecting familiar charges of manipulation, competitive devaluation, and beggar-thy-neighbour mercantilism. In mid-April, the US Treasury expressed “particularly serious concerns” over this development, underscoring what has long been one of the most contentious economic-policy issues between the United States and China.
Concern is growing that China's economy could be headed for a hard landing. The Chinese stock market has fallen 20% over the past year, to levels last seen in 2009. Continued softness in recent data _ from purchasing managers' sentiment and industrial output to retail sales and exports _ has heightened the anxiety. Long the global economy's most powerful engine, China, many now fear, is running out of fuel.
In September 1998, during the depths of the Asian financial crisis, Alan Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve's chairman at the time, had a simple message: The US is not an oasis of prosperity in an otherwise struggling world. Mr Greenspan's point is even closer to the mark today than it was back then.
Asian authorities were understandably smug after the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Growth in the region slowed sharply, as might be expected of export-led economies confronted with the sharpest collapse in global trade since the 1930s. But, with the notable exception of Japan, which suffered its deepest recession of the modern era, Asia came through an extraordinarily tough period in excellent shape.