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Public Council Sets New Tasks to Support Russia-Africa Relations

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In this interview with Armen Khachatryan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programme Director at the Roscongress Foundation, and now a member of the newly created Public Council under the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum, argues that the first Summit held in October 2019 ultimately seeks to inject a new dynamism in the existing Russia-Africa relations.

According to him, as the African continent undergoes positive transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas, and one of the outcomes of that historic event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat further created a Public Council, the body also incorporates a Coordinating Council, Research Council and Media Council.

Speaking with Kester Kenn Klomegah early January 2021, Armen Khachatryan unreservedly stressed that building on the existing relations and all that have been achieved over the past few years, needs new platforms such as the Public Council. This Public Council aims primarily to uplift and solidly support the relations into a new stage, change perception among the public and give it an entirely new outlook into the future. Here are the interview excerpts:

A meeting of the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat took place early November 2020. What were the main outcomes of the event?

It was the first kick-off meeting held last year. We determined the objectives facing the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat. Specifically, these were to do with implementing the decisions of the inaugural Russia–Africa Summit and organizing the second summit, which is planned to take place in 2022. We discussed the current state of Russian-African relations in the humanitarian sphere, as well as the potential to develop them further. We also set out the council’s plan of action.

In your opinion, what social initiatives were prioritized – particularly at this time when Russia is seriously looking to focus on Africa?

Humanitarian cooperation has recently played an increasingly significant role in the development of Russian-African relations. The lively discussions at the Russia–Africa Economic Forum in October, 2019, in Sochi are testament to the importance of joint social initiatives, and to the shared desire to implement them. I believe this is with good reason, as collaboration in this area can help build an atmosphere of mutual trust. It isabsolutely essential to forge sustainable partnerships in different spheres with Africa.

In terms of priorities, areas in which we have traditionally collaborated include education, healthcare, culture, the environment, safety and security and so forth. All of these fields possess enormous potential for Russia and Africa to work together, and our country is ready to share its experience and expertise on mutually beneficial terms. Unlike some other countries, Russia wants a strong Africa with genuine sovereignty and a competitive economy. With this in mind, I would place particular emphasis on education. From my point of view, Africa’s most valuable asset is not its natural resources, but its people.

Young people currently make up a significant percentage of the population across the African continent. And that figure is going to increase further still. The population of the continent has already passed the 1.3 billion mark, with a median age of about 20. Around 60% of the population are young people under the age of 25. And according to forecasts, by 2050 the elderly will account for just 9% of the population. Given these numbers, we not only need to increase quotas for African students looking to study in Russia, but also open branches of our universities in African countries. That would allow us to offer a Russian education to many more African students as well as establish student exchange programmes.

By all appearances, aspects to do with education and professional training – and issues of humanitarian nature – are currently being examined in keeping with the course that has been delineated. Do you think that civil society should be involved in extending the reach of public diplomacy between Russia and Africa?

There is no doubt that collaboration between Russia and Africa should extend across the board, and take place at various levels. It should not be limited to ties between government officials and members of the business community. In any country, ordinary citizens make up the majority of the population, and for countries to collaborate effectively with one another, there needs to be an understanding of their perspectives and wishes. Therefore, as we look to establish direct ties and foster an environment conducive to regular dialogue with the people of various African nations, it is vital to involve civil society more closely.

It would appear sensible to provide more opportunities to people in Africa in terms of volunteering and doing internships at large Russian companies that are looking to build their presence on the African continent. The aim would be for these people to potentially be offered jobs at the companies’ African branches. Human resources need to be at the heart of our efforts, given their potential role in strengthening ties in both industry and science.

For our part, the Roscongress Foundation, as a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is open to proposals and is ready to provide assistance in promoting Russia’s image in African countries. This includes through organizing business, cultural and sporting events. As far as this is concerned, I imagine that the Foundation will receive support from Russian embassies and Rossotrudnichestvo’s offices in African countries.

Do you envisage any problems during attempts to better leverage Russias soft power and to strengthen public diplomacy in Africa? Do you view competition from other foreign players as a challenge?

I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to use the term “soft power” in this instance. In this regard, I am of the same opinion as Yevgeny Primakov, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo. The term I take issue with is “power”, which implies pressure of some kind. We have no intention of pressurizing anyone. We are in favour of equal relations with all of our partners, and this includes African nations. In particular, we are guided by the principle of “African solutions to African problems.”

Obviously, there is competition, but I would not call that a challenge as such. Our main objective is not to compete with someone, but to offer our own perspectives on certain issues, communicate our values, and build a positive image of Russia in the eyes of people in Africa. Let me explicitly reiterate here, we are not exerting power in any way. People in Africa will have the benefit of several alternative perspectives, and will be able to choose the approach they feel is closest to them. This, in my opinion, is the principle of equality and mutual respect.

Of course, there are things that are hampering efforts to implement a systemic Russian humanitarian policy in Africa. For example, Rossotrudnichestvo has only eight offices across Africa’s 54 nations. It would appear that Russian-African ties would benefit from Russia opening new diplomatic missions in the region. If we want Russia’s voice to be heard on the African continent, special attention needs to be given to this issue.

In terms of the media landscape, what steps need to be taken to improve the work done by various outlets? How can we better inform society about events in both parts of the world? Why, for example, news in Africa rarely reported on in Russia?

In terms of working with the African continent, I believe that raising awareness on both sides is one of the most important issues we face. It is difficult to talk about joint ventures, for example, to develop the SME sector, when the African continent remains so little known in Russia, and in Africa, there is only a vague notion of what Russia is. The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum played a crucial role in addressing this, as did the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That event saw many people from Africa visit Russia for the first time. They were able to see with their own eyes what our country is like, instead of being presented an image by the Western media. People were following events using various information resources.

These events played a huge role in helping to shape the media landscape. However, this exchange of information needs to be done on a more permanent basis. It’s worth pointing out that in today’s world, awareness can be raised in more ways than just via the media. Given the spread of social media, the student exchanges I mentioned earlier could, over time, play a much more important role in cultivating Russia’s image than conventional media channels. However, in order to achieve this, it is vital to work with young people in both Russia and Africa.

Going back to conventional media, I believe that first of all, Russian news agencies need to expand their network of correspondents in Africa. That would allow our journalists to work with primary sources, rather than rely on material put together by foreign news agencies. It will also be important to get Russian and African journalists working together, for example, through placement programmes, master classes, roundtables and so forth.

To answer the question on news in Africa being reported on in Russia, things are developing. Telegram channels dedicated to the African continent are appearing, for example, so it is possible to stay up-to-date with key events. One organization which is doing much to leverage Telegram channels is the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS). Its members include the Roscongress Foundation, which has considerable experience in developing and implementing humanitarian initiatives. AECAS is also currently working to build an integrated space for people in Russia and Africa to obtain information. This appears to me to be a very promising area. Admittedly, when it comes to large news agencies, the problem is that there are not enough events to report on which would garner widespread interest. However, I am in no doubt that as Russian‑African relations develop further, things will improve in this area.

The second Russian-African Public Forum took place in November 2020. In his welcome address, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said that amendments needed to be made topolicy initiatives in order to respond to changing realities in Africa. What was he referring to, and what is your take on “changing realities” in Africa?

First of all, I would say that the African continent has undergone an enormous transformation over the last few years. Across all areas, Africa has become much more profoundly involved in the economic processes driving globalization. Partners in Africa are implementing a programme to ease the movement of goods, capital and people, and to employ new technology in business and marketing. This has made the African economy more open and attractive to foreign investors.

The first Russia–Africa Economic Forum in Sochi served as yet another clear demonstration to the Russian and global community that the African economy is becoming more organic. It served as proof of Africa’s increasingly significant role in the global economy. Indeed, the continent has a direct bearing on global growth, and on progress in science and technology. Africa’s economic ties with the rest of the world are certainly no longer solely about supplying raw materials and being a market for finished products.

The socioeconomic growth we are witnessing, together with the global economy’s accelerated transition to a new wave of tech innovation, has meant that Africa’s role and position in the global economy has shifted significantly. The continent is also becoming an important growth pole in terms of global demand. Consumer spending on the continent has already reached US$ 680 billion. According the World Bank, this figure is set to grow to US$ 2.2 trillion by 2030.

As the continent undergoes this transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas. It was a historic milestone for Russian-African cooperation. One of the outcomes of the event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. In addition to a public council, the body also incorporates a coordinating council, research council, and media council. Never before in Russia’s modern history has there been such a serious mechanism for bringing together expertise and best practices from all sides and across all areas. It is set to act as a foundation to develop all aspects of Russian-African partnership, and to effectively position Africa’s transformation, which we briefly discussed earlier.

The high-level summit also led to the establishment of the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States, which will serve as a platform to strengthen business ties between Russia and Africa.

The situation is so diverse – politics, economy and culture – in Africa. In your opinion, what are the best pathways for promoting policy initiatives, as well as the social aspects of diplomacy with Africa?

That is quite important, but I don’t think we should try to identify a single “best” or “universal” pathway. It’s important to understand that Africa is a diverse continent – every country is unique, and requires an individual approach. And that’s before we consider that methods and initiatives that are employed in one region of the world – for example, Europe – are not at all necessarily appropriate for countries in Africa. We need to meticulously analyse each initiative, and be sure to draw the greatest possible benefit from them.

Generally speaking, there needs to be a focus on working with people, and in particular, with young people in Africa. These efforts should be based upon the needs of the population. And as I mentioned earlier, the pathways to achieving our aims could look very different from one another. Africa, just like Russia, is blessed with a wealth of extremely young talented people: some make films, others dance, others draw. But that’s not the important thing. What’s important here is to do everything we can to connect the lives of people in Africa with our country –we show that Russia is ready to help develop their talents. After all, these people could well become the thought leaders of the future, as well as ambassadors for Russian-African relations. These people could help foster a positive image of Russia in their respective countries. We are ready to engage and cooperate with intergovernmental organizations, civil society and African partners, work constructively to consolidate the results from the first summit and what both Russia and Africa further set inthe joint declaration in Sochi, in October 2019.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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The Flawed Fabric of Pakistan’s Economic Policymaking

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Finally, the fiscal year ended after a tortuous ride from rate hikes to regime change to near-bankruptcy. Even the end node of this chapter was a bang of inflation. According to the data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measured inflation breached through a 14-year ceiling – stricking at 21.3% in June – sailing on the back of subsidy withdrawals, petroleum levies, high energy tariffs, and basically, everything demanded by the IMF. Two days earlier, the Finance Ministry forecasted the June inflation to range between 14.5-15.5%. The jump in the CPI of June (over May) was 6.3% – the highest monthly rise in the history of Pakistan. Typically, the central banks intervene to harness the inflationary pressures as such. However, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has already been tightening the screws since September, cumulatively raising the policy rate by 675 basis points. Still, inflation is far from even remotely under control. One should wonder if the SBP has actually lost the ability to regulate prices and correct external imbalances?

The straightforward answer is no; the SBP is still in control. For instance, study the currency valuation in the global forex market. Despite a modest recovery in the rupee in the past few weeks, it has rapidly shed value against the greenback. However, the deterioration is in tandem with the global inflationary outlook and reactionary policies enacted by the major economies. The hawkish tune adopted by the US Federal Reserve is the key to understanding this dynamic. The fed has been aggressively hiking the policy rate since late March – cumulatively raising the short-term rate by 150 basis points in three months. The increment of 75 basis points last month was the most aggressive rate hike since 1994. As similar rate increases are expected throughout the second half this year, other currencies (primarily belonging to developing or frontier markets) are rapidly losing value against the US dollar. The Japanese yen, for instance, is down to record low levels against the greenback despite being the monetary unit of the world’s third-largest economy. Thus, the deterioration in the Pakistani rupee (and resulting inflation) is not entirely due to the inefficacy of our national monetary policies.

The depreciation effect in the rupee is exacerbating due to high global commodity prices influenced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The subsequent western sanctions have skyrocketed the global energy prices that have even flared the US inflationary pressures to the highest point since the 1970s. Pakistan has faced the brunt through excessive dollar outflows for imports of expensive petroleum products, premium RLNG cargoes, and inflated staple commodities. In the outgoing fiscal year, the import bill loomed around the historically-high figure of $65 billion against mediocre export receipts. About one-fourth of the import bill anchors to imports of crude and petroleum derivatives from the international market. As a result, the trade deficit skewed over $48 billion; the current account deficit breached the budgetary target to settle at around $16 billion (over 4% of GDP). This economic hodgepodge slumped the rupee by record 30% in the outgoing fiscal year. And despite transient recoveries, the currency is projected to further deteriorate by an average of 5-6% in the FY22-23.

The war in Ukraine is grinding, seemingly unending. The resulting economic outlook is bleak – not just for Pakistan but the rest of the world. The curiosity should pique then, and one should question: how should Pakistan cruise through this strenuous period? There is no simple answer but to persevere. However, subtle hints of control are discernible in the latest auction of sovereign debt securities by the government of Pakistan. The recent auction of T-bills reveals cues regarding the perception of the SBP. The government raised Rs 1.732 trillion (against a target of Rs 800 billion) by auctioning the three-month T-bills at a cut-off yield of 15.23% – slightly lower than the 11-year high yield of 15.25% in the mid-June auction. The modest fall of two basis points was due to the unconventional liquidity injection earlier by the SBP of Rs 491.7 billion to the commercial banks via a 77-day long Open Market Operation (OMO) at a rate of 13.85%. It was the most enduring OMO in the history of Pakistan, perhaps aimed to narrow the gap between the policy rate and the cut-off yields as the preceding 63-day OMOs failed to cool down the commercial lending rates. Thus, the SBP was trying to signal that the policy rate has peaked i.e. the current rate of 13.75% is apt to maintain economic stability without destroying business confidence.

Ultimately, I believe the gap is still broader than the traditional variance – between T-bill yields and the policy rate – of under 100 basis points. Therefore, I expect a modest rate hike of 50 basis points when the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) convenes on 7th July. I hope for clear cues, fact-based reassurances of economic stability, and a workable roadmap toward an expansionary schedule. There is no doubt that the regional high policy rate is harming the export sector. However, a ban on certain imports and the new super tax introduced on virtually every business sector is more damaging to the welfare of Pakistan’s economy. Thus, we should question the fiscal policies of Pakistan alongside the monetary decisions of the SBP. While the SBP tightens the screws, the federal cabinet should devise complementary frameworks instead of countering the effect to bag an electoral agenda. Banning imports when exports are contingent on imported goods is blasphemy of economic principles. Overtaxing businesses when the lending rates are spiraling sky-high is murdering national financial viability and stability. And obsequiously bowing down to every condition laid out by the IMF without any regard for public tolerance is quite simply bad governance. Hence, we may somehow survive this road to a global recession. However, without a structured (and balanced) approach to economic policymaking, I’m afraid we are paving our very own path toward eventual doom.

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An Assessment on China’s Inflation Trend and Outlook

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In the quarterly meeting of its monetary policy committee, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) repeatedly mentioned price stabilization in its policy statement. The trend of inflation in China is not only becoming a restrictive factor for monetary policy to support stable growth, but has also increasing impacted its economic recovery. This has also aroused worry in the market that with changes in the international situation, inflation will exceed the central bank’s 3% policy target, which could trigger passive adjustments in the policy or even hyperinflation in extreme cases.

Despite the spike in global inflation levels, inflation in China has remained relatively stable in recent years without significant fluctuations. Yet, as the international situation changes, what will happen to inflation in China? Will there be a situation of high inflation as in developed countries? As this is not only related to the process of economic recovery in the second half of the year, but also to the direction of future macro policy adjustments, it has been an issue of concern for the country’s policymakers.

When it comes to the issue of global inflation, researchers at ANBOUND have noted that high inflation in developed countries such as the United States and Europe may cause short-term outbreaks of aggregate demand under the post-pandemic monetary stimulus. In addition, there is also an imbalance in energy sources brought about by rising geopolitical risks. Factors like the restructuring of supply and demand during the pandemic and carbon reduction development policies have also brought long-term effects. Such circumstances would mean that economies with high dependence on energy and with heavy service industries have to face the threat of high inflation. Inflation in the United States was 8.6% in May, while the United Kingdom saw a record high of 9%, and the latest data showed that the inflation level in the eurozone reached 8.6% in June. There is the risk that the inflation problem is getting out of control, which forces major central banks in Europe and the United States to adopt tightening policies like raising interest rates and shrinking balance sheets to deal with the risks brought by inflation at the expense of economic slowdown or recession.

Price Changes in China and in the United States

Source: Eastmoney.com, chart plotted by ANBOUND

Although China’s inflation did increase in the second quarter, the moderate rise in inflation did not form a fundamental constraint on the country’s economic development and monetary policy. This is mainly because its economic cycle is different from that of Europe and the United States. While China is also affected by external factors, the lack of domestic demand in the economy is still the main reason for changes in inflation. At the same time, the COVID-19 outbreaks in developed areas of the country in the first quarter of this year have had a great impact on China’s production and life, while the recovery of consumer and service demands has not seen a retaliatory rebound. Therefore, the recovery of demand as a whole requires a certain process. In the case of insufficient effective demand, it would be difficult for domestic inflation to change rapidly.

When it comes to the aspect of supply, it should be pointed out that China’s policies have placed a lot of emphasis on energy security and bulk commodities. This has essentially guaranteed the supply of resources, thus avoiding the occurrence of hyperinflation caused by externally imported inflation. As far as the domestic industry is concerned, China itself has a relatively complete industrial chain and supply system, which has also minimized the disturbance to production and supply caused by uncertain factors brought about by the adjustment of the global supply and industrial chains. On the one hand, through the monopoly of state-owned enterprises in industrial upstream, China has basically maintained the crude oil import channel even under the circumstance of crude oil price fluctuations. On the other hand, the coal-electricity linkage is used to maintain the stability of the electricity price of enterprises as much as possible. Although a large number of power generation enterprises have suffered losses, and there has also been the issue of “power cuts” in some places, the overall electricity price is still in a stable state. This greatly alleviates the impact of energy price fluctuations on business production.

Due to fluctuations in international energy and commodity prices, the increase in production prices as a “global factor” has continued for quite some time for China. The country’s PPI level will remain high for a long time from 2021. However, the widening of the scissors gap between PPI and CPI has not resulted in a short-term sharp increase in final consumer prices. Thanks to the continuous improvement of the production efficiency of enterprises, some of the pressure of rising costs has been absorbed. Meanwhile, in most traditional fields, under the situation of overcapacity, flexible production buffers the pressure of rising upstream prices, accelerates industrial integration, and passively achieves “de-capacity”.

In the iron and steel industry, where the problem of overcapacity is more prominent, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the price of crude steel products has not fluctuated much. At the same time, some leading enterprises are also accelerating the integration, which has alleviated the impact of fluctuations in energy prices and iron ore prices on the industry. This, in turn, has also eased the cost pressure on downstream enterprises. All these factors signify that the commodity price is continuously digested through the industrial chain, and finally, the terminal price is protected from the upstream influence.

In addition, the PBoC has always emphasized a “prudent” monetary policy, adhered to the policy of matching the growth rate of money and social financing scale with nominal GDP, and not over-issuing money. This in effect keeps the domestic money supply stable, which is the main factor for the basic stability of the RMB exchange rate and the stable domestic short-term price level. There is a clear difference between the environment within China and the international environment, which contributes to the overall stability after the COVID-19 outbreaks ended.

As the PBoC put forward the overall consideration of “stabilizing prices” and “stabilizing employment”, its focus should be on avoiding hyperinflation caused by food, energy, and supply chain constraints. This is especially true when it comes to “imported inflation” brought about by the uncertainties such as increased geopolitical risks and international capital flows. It is worth noting that the price of pork, which is the main component of the CPI, has undergone some changes in the context of the shifts in the pig cycle and the increase in food import prices, which may impact food prices and inflation trends. However, this change is more of a cyclical factor. According to the current situation of production and demand in China, when the industrial chain is complete and the logistics system is stable, it is unlikely that there will be an overall imbalance of supply and demand. This means that domestic inflation may rise moderately as the economy recovers, but there will be no hyperinflation.

Under the current situation, researchers at ANBOUND believe that among the triple pressures of demand contraction, supply shock, and weakening expectations, the main contradiction facing the Chinese economy is still demand contraction. Macro policy adjustments, including monetary policy, still need to focus on “stabilizing growth”. Only by stabilizing aggregate demand can employment issues and structural problems be solved. As far as monetary policy is concerned, it is still necessary for China to maintain a “moderately loose” tone to provide an appropriate monetary environment for economic recovery and stability. Of course, the issue of inflation cannot be completely ignored, but the coordination of other industrial policies and market supervision policies is needed to stabilize the supply chain, sustain a complete domestic production system, and maintain a balance between supply and demand, so as to effectively promote market recovery and sustainable growth.

Final analysis conclusion:

Inflation is not only a problem that major economies have to face, but also a potential risk factor in China’s economic recovery. For now, insufficient domestic effective demand is still the main factor restraining inflation. In the short term, China’s complete industrial chain, stable supply system, as well as its restrained monetary policy will play an important role in alleviating inflation. However, in the medium and long term, with the intensification of the international energy crisis and the surge in global inflationary pressure, the country still needs to be alert to the risk of high inflation.

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Economic Restructuring Key to Coping with Risks in China’s Economy

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze, Yusha Li*

Just over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the deepest global recession since World War II, the global economy continues to face a series of acute shocks. The war in Ukraine has not only led to a humanitarian crisis but is also having substantial effects on commodity markets, trade flows, inflation, and financial conditions which have deepened the slowdown in global growth.

As a result, the world economy is expected to experience its sharpest deceleration following an initial recovery from global recession in more than 80 years, as highlighted by the World Bank’s “Global Economic Prospects” report published on June 7. Global growth is projected to slow down from 5.7 percent in 2021 to 2.9 percent in 2022 with activity declining markedly in the eurozone, which has closer economic links with Russia, and US growth slowing to less than half of 2021, reflecting sharply higher energy prices, tighter financial conditions, and persistent supply disruptions.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by sharply reducing export growth and dampening confidence amid heightened geopolitical tensions. This is expected to exacerbate the slowdown caused by recurrent COVID-19 outbreaks in some places and related lockdowns in parts of China which have disrupted supply chains and significantly weakened household and business activity. Following a strong 8.1 percent rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects China’s growth to slow to 4.3 percent this year. This rate of growth is below the economy’s potential-the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Our forecast reflects the sharp deceleration in activity in the second quarter of 2022 that took place despite policy actions to cushion the economic slowdown. With the easing of pandemic controls in Shanghai and Beijing, and barring any major COVID-19 outbreaks, growth momentum is expected to rebound in the second half of 2022, helped also by additional policy stimulus announced by the State Council, China’s Cabinet, last month. The normalization of domestic demand conditions, however, is expected to be gradual and will only partly offset the economic damage caused by the pandemic in the earlier part of the year.

While China has the macroeconomic policy space to react to domestic and external headwinds, our latest “China Economic Update” argues that policy makers face a dilemma between keeping COVID-19 under control and supporting economic growth. Indeed, stimulus policies are less effective in places where pandemic restrictions remain in place. Yet letting COVID-19 spread would likely hurt growth even more.

Over the medium term, greater efforts are needed to shift away from the old playbook of investment-led stimulus to boost economic growth because high levels of indebtedness of corporations and local governments will limit the effectiveness of policy easing and increase financial stability risks.

To address these balance sheet constraints, policymakers could shift more of the stimulus onto the balance sheet of the central government. They could also direct public investment toward the greening of infrastructure. Recent announcements seem to go in this direction.

Also, fiscal support could shift beyond tax relief for enterprises to target measures to encourage consumption directly. For example, the wider use of consumption vouchers could lift consumer spending in the short term in places where COVID-related restrictions have been lifted. Reforms to strengthen automatic stabilizers such as unemployment insurance and other social safety nets could also help increase consumption, particularly among the poor and vulnerable that have a lower propensity to save.

China’s housing market downturn in the midst of the recent global deceleration exemplifies the limits to past stimulus efforts. For over two decades, China’s real estate sector has grown at a remarkable pace and become a principal engine of economic growth. As of end-2021, total real estate investment stood at 13 percent of GDP, compared with 5 percent in OECD member states. If one takes into account inputs along the supply chains, the real estate sector drives around 30 percent of China’s GDP. A disorderly adjustment in the real estate sector would thus have major economic consequences.

Our report provides specific recommendations for dealing with these risks. In the short term, ensuring adequate liquidity and carefully monitoring the health of the financial sector to avoid spillovers remain key. Over the medium term, several structural reforms would put the real estate sector on a sounder footing.

China’s inner cities could be made denser, more productive and more livable through changes to urban planning that move away from the past extensive model of urbanization. This would need to be implemented in conjunction with fiscal reforms to expand the revenue base of cities beyond land sales.

At the same time, financing options for real estate developers would need to be broadened through the expansion of project-based financing or the greater participation of institutional investors such as “Real Estate Investment Trusts”. In addition, a robust and predictable framework for debt resolution and corporate insolvencies would help reallocate capital from troubled developers.

Finally, further liberalization of the financial system would expand the range of investment options for households and reduce the propensity to buy and hold empty properties as investment vehicles.

Despite the current challenging environment, China’s economic policies to support a rapid recovery should remain geared toward tackling the country’s structural challenges. Rebalancing demand toward consumption, improving capital allocation and labor mobility, and greening China’s development model would help ensure that future growth is stable, inclusive and sustainable.

*Ibrahim Chowdhury is World Bank senior economist for China; Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze is World Bank senior country economist; and Yusha Li is a World Bank economist.

First publish on China Daily / World Bank

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