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孔诰烽:美国的大管家?

中国在全球危机中的两难
本文探讨中国在全球经济危机中的两难困境。

次贷危机和随后出现的全球经济衰退使得许多人在思考是否可能出现新的挑战者来替代美国作为资本主义世界经济中的主要玩家。[1] 因为美国和全球北方的金融危机根源于高债务负担、低生产率和过度消费,人们很自然地把目光转向它的对立面---东亚出口国家拥有的巨额美国外汇、高生产能力、高储蓄率---来确定可能的候选对象。去年雷曼兄弟公司破产后不久掀开了全球经济衰退的序幕,已经有人宣称东亚尤其是中国发展模式的最后胜利,美国评论家得出结论说2008年的大危机将是全球资本主义中心从美国转向中国的催化剂。[2]

但是到了2009年春天,许多人已经认识到东亚经济并不像外表那样坚不可摧。虽然全球北方进口需求的大幅度萎缩导致亚洲出口国家的紧急迫降,美国证券市场的前景或者美元走出低谷的可能使得他们陷入两难的尴尬处境,要么卖掉美元资产从而引发美元贬值,要么购买更多美元防止即刻的危机,但增加未来面临危机的风险。去年中国四万亿刺激计划推出的国家投资促进了中国以及亚洲贸易伙伴的经济恢复,但引发的增长不大可能长久。中国经济学家和政策顾问已经在担心一旦经济刺激的影响消退,中国将再次陷入衰退,因为美国消费者不可能短期内恢复消费需求。尽管一直有人谈论中国有能力摧毁美元的储蓄货币地位,建立新的全球金融秩序,但中国及其邻国在短期内除了增加美国债券,维持美国经济的主导地位之外实在没有多少其他选择。

笔者在本文中将追踪中国和东亚日益严重地依靠全球北方消费市场作为其经济增长的来源,以及依靠美国金融工具作为其财富积累方式的历史和社会根源。接着,笔者将评价未来终结这种依赖性的可能性,指出要创造更加自主的亚洲经济秩序,中国将不得不把主要给沿海出口领域带来利益并被既得利益者长久保持的出口导向的增长模式转变为通过大规模的收入重新分配给农村和农业领域,依靠国内消费推动的增长模式。但是,如果不打破沿海都市精英对权力的控制,这种转变是不可能的。

老虎和大雁

战后日本和四小虎 ---韩国、台湾、香港、新加坡迅速崛起的故事是众所周知的,这里不需要重复。但是如果他们充满活力的崛起可以归功于中央政府在指导宝贵资源流向战略性工业领域的作用的话,同样重要的是,我们必须认识到东亚的冷战地缘政治是这些国家发展的前提条件。在冷战时期东亚的冷战实际上是热战。共产主义中国支持游击队、卷入朝鲜战争、越南战争使得这个地区陷入永久的紧急状态,华盛顿把东亚看作遏制共产主义扩张链条中最薄弱的环节。考虑到其重要的亚洲盟友---日本和四小虎---太重要了不能失败,美国为它们提供了大量金融和军事援助来启动和指导其工业增长,同时让美国和欧洲市场对亚洲产品开放。这种销往西方市场的条件是其他发展中国家并没有享有的优势,如果没有这些,亚洲经济取得如此成功是不可思议的。如果从这个角度看,东亚的经济快速增长远不是什么“奇迹”。美国创造了它,作为在亚洲太平洋地区修筑对抗共产主义的既听话又繁荣的防波堤的努力的一部分。这些经济体决不是用来挑战美国地缘政治利益和地缘经济利益的,相反是帮助华盛顿实现其在该地区企图的顺从的小兄弟。

以日本为中心的生产网络通过多层次的外包组织起来,亚洲出口商在价值链条中占据不同的位置,每个专门生产某级利润程度和某级技术复杂性的产品。日本集中在附加值最高的商品,四小虎在中间产品,东南亚新兴国家则专门生产低成本的劳动密集型商品。这种著名的“雁行模式”形成了一个可靠的供应商的网络,为第一世界提供范围广泛的消费品。

当1980年代冷战的紧张关系开始松动后,美国因为新自由主义的减税措施和冷战最后阶段的军事开支的暴涨,其经常项目账户和财政赤字已经大幅上升。然而,亚洲经济不是挣脱美国霸权的轨道,反而通过为其飞涨的财政赤字提供金融支持加紧了和美国的联系。东亚的出口导向的工业化一直伴随着很低的国内消费水平。因此造成的贸易盈余和高储蓄率使得这些国家能够积累以大量外汇盈余的形式的金融资产。考虑到美国债券是全球金融市场上最安全的投资,大部分东亚出口者心甘情愿地用积累的现金购买获利很低的美国债券,把自己变成美国的主要债权人。他们对美国经常性账户赤字提供金融支持刺激了美国对亚洲商品的胃口,进一步增加亚洲的贸易盈余,从而导致购买更多美国债券。这种相互增强的过程扩大了东亚市场和金融对美国的依赖,在美国霸权的逐渐衰落时帮助延长了其脆弱的繁荣。


从1980年代开始在90年代逐渐加速,中国的市场改革把它变成了后来的亚洲虎。许多人预测,因为其地缘政治独立性和特别大的人口和经济总量,中国将具有独特的能力摆脱亚洲对美国的双依赖。但是到现在为止,中国并没有摆脱为美国提供廉价借贷和低成本商品的受制于人的命运。更糟糕的是,中国出口导向的压抑私人消费的增长模式使得其市场和金融比从前的亚洲虎更加厉害地依靠美国。如果我们比较中国政治经济的最重要方面和类似发展阶段的邻居的情况,就会发现中国模式基本上是早期东亚增长模式最极端形式的翻版。图1显示中国经济的贸易依赖程度(通过出口总价值占GDP的百分比来计算)一直在增长中,达到了其他东亚经济体从来没有过的新高度。另一方面,中国私人消费占GDP的比重一直在下降,远远低于其他国家在经济起飞时期的比例(见图2)。正如表1显示的,对中国来说,像从前的日本和东亚虎一样,美国是唯一最重要的出口市场,出口导向的压制私人消费的增长模式只是在最近才被作为整体的欧盟所超过。中国已经成为美国的首要亚洲供应商。中国出口工业的急速扩张不仅解释了惊人的经济增长,而且通过扩大贸易盈余也增强了它的金融力量。正如图3显示的,中国外汇储备现在远远超过了东亚邻居。到现在为止,中国像其他出口者一样把大部分储蓄投资美国债券。到次贷危机前夕,中国已经成为美国的最大出口商,同时也是最大的债权人。为美国的经常性账户赤字买单,维持其购买出口品的能力。(见图4)。而中国的低成本出口品帮助美国降低了通货膨胀,其大量购买美国债券帮助减少了其收益,也因此降低了美国利率。在这么做的时候,中国在最近一些年成为美国经济活力的主要支持者。

农村危机

中国在过去30年形成东亚出口导向的增长模式的能力取决于全球形势以及中国国内的政治经济状况。首先,中国的劳动密集型经济起飞刚好吻合1980年代以来开始的全球自由贸易的空前扩张。如果不是因为全球北方工业外包和后者持续对低成本制造品的渴求,中国就不可能找到通过出口达到繁荣的道路。更重要的是,如果和其他亚洲国家在类似发展阶段的情况相比的话,中国特别的竞争力大部分是建立在制造业工资长期停滞的基础上的。

许多人可能说中国的工资竞争力来源于其固定的汇率机制,它在很大程度上低估了货币的价值。其他人则认为中国庞大的农村劳动力大军使得它能够比其他亚洲国家更长久地供应“无限的”劳动力。但是仔细考察后发现这两种解释都是不充分的。首先,正如图5(下)显示的,中国工资水平和邻居的差别远远大于货币贬值所能给予的解释。即使对照美元,人民币元升值20-30%,中国工资依然远远低于其他国家。第二,人们普遍认为无限的劳动力供应是中国人口结构的天然现象,其实它是政府农业和农村政策的结果,有意或无意地让农村破产,所以造成了农村劳动力源源不断外出打工。


这些政策和低工资水平的关系可以通过对比中国和日本、韩国、台湾的农村发展来显示出来,这些地方在经济起飞时期也拥有大量的农村人口和农业经济。在战后日本,执政的自民党积极指导资源到农村,通过农村基础设施投资,农业发展金融,农业补贴和外国农产品关税等措施。在韩国,朴正熙政权在1970年代初期发起 “新村运动”(Saemaul Undong),把大量财政资源投入农村改善农村基础设施,支持农业机械化,开办农村教育机构和合作社。这些措施取得了很大的成功:它把农村家庭收入从 1970年代占城市人口67%提高到1974年的95%,基本上消除了城乡差别。[3] 在台湾,国民党政府1960年代1970年代采取了类似的政策,特别努力地推动农业的工业化。结果造成的台湾工业的分散化为农民提供了农闲时期在附近工厂做工,农忙时回家种地的机会,不需要完全抛弃农田移民到大城市。这帮助农村保留了相当数量的劳动力资源,促成更加平衡的城乡经济增长,在1960年代和 1970年代,农村人均收入总是高于城市人均收入60%。在这样的政策下,毫不奇怪的是,多余的农村人口迅速减少,制造业工资在这些国家迅速提高。

采取这些不同道路的原因是多样的。在日本,农村选民对自民党选举成功的重要性解释了它对农业发展的关注。对于韩国和台湾右翼独裁政权来说,推动农业和农村发展是把伴随工业化而产生的社会动荡降到最低的一个方法,也是消除左派势力在农村的影响壮大的方法。同时也是在冷战紧张状态下确保粮食安全的关键措施。相反,中国自1980年代中期以来的工业发展和日本韩国和台湾相比更加不平衡。在过去20年,中国政府把投资大部分集中在城市工业领域,尤其是沿海地区,农村和农业投资落自后面。国有银行也把主要精力放在城市工业发展上,农村金融基本上被忽略了。在过去20年,农村人均收入从啦没有超过城市人均收入的 40%。

这种向城市倾斜的做法至少部分是因为东南沿海地区城市工业精英占主导地位,在中国最初和全球经济融合的时候出现的地区,因为出口增长使得金融资源和政治影响力进一步扩张,他们能更加熟练地影响中央的政策朝自己有利的方向倾斜。根据最近的评价,中共的“精英派”---主要由在沿海地区和贸易金融领域成长起来的高级干部组成---控制了中央政治局比对立的与内陆省份关系密切的“民粹派”更多的席位。虽然现在的国家元首胡锦涛是民粹派的首领,但一直是沿海省份福建和浙江任职的精英派首领习近平则超越胡的意中人当选为2012年接替胡的新领袖。[4] 他们的更大影响力确保了更多注意力集中在提高中国出口竞争力和对外国投资的吸引力上而不是农村的发展上。根源于超级通货膨胀和大城市生活水平下降的 1989年城市动乱只能使得党国在1990年代决心以牺牲农村为代价确保城市地区的经济繁荣。

这种城市偏见的结果和农村经济相对停滞以及共存的农村地方政府财政紧缺有关。从1990年代以来,农业收入的恶化和农村集体工业的崩溃---在市场改革初期吸引大量劳动力的红火的乡镇企业 ---迫使农村大量青年离开家乡到城市打工,造成了导致农村严重社会危机的恶性循环。但是,中国的农业领域不仅被忽略,而且为了支持城市发展,它还遭到掠夺。最近的研究显示在1978年到2000年,存在持久的从农业农村领域到城市工业领域的资源净转移,既通过财政政策(税收和政府开支)和金融体制(通过储蓄和贷款) [5] 这个趋势的例外是城市经济遭受暂时衰落比如1997-98年亚洲金融危机之后那几年。(见下图6)

中国偏向都市的发展模式是中国持久的“无限”劳动力供应的根源,因此,工资长期停滞是其经济奇迹的特征。这个模式也解释了中国不断增加的贸易盈余,不断增长的全球金融力量。但这种发展战略造成的低工资和农村生活水平限制了中国国内消费市场的发展,加深了它对全球北方消费需求的依赖,使得发达国家越来越多地依靠从中国和其他亚洲出口者的大量借贷。因为亚洲其他出口商通过工业生产网络的地方化已经融合进中国的出口引擎,中国经济的脆弱性已经变成了整个东亚地区的弱点。

以中国为中心的依赖性

在1990年代,中国逐渐确立了生产各种技术层次出口商品的亚洲最具竞争力的出口商的地位。结果,其他国家包括日本和最初的四小虎,连同马来西亚和泰国等东南亚新兴国家都面临调整战略的强大压力。中国的竞争力诱惑许多出口商从亚洲其他地方迁移到中国。2001年的《经济学家》报道了中国的邻居对于其崛起产生的“警惕和绝望”:日本、韩国、台湾担心其工业的“空洞化”,随着工厂迁往成本低的中国。东南亚国家担心贸易和投资流向的“转移”,中国不是“飞”雁,因为它在同时生产简单商品和复杂商品,既生产纸尿裤又生产微型芯片。它以能够决定世界价格的规模生产涵盖整个价值链的所有商品,因此东亚国家感到焦虑。如果中国在任何东西上都更有效率,还能给邻居剩下什么来做呢? [6]

理所当然出现了这样的情况,中国的邻居竭力重新调整出口领域的结构以尽量减少和中国的正面竞争,并从其经济增长中获利。在从前东亚工业秩序下,每个经济体出口某种特别的最终消费品。现在这些国家开始在往中国出口的商品中增加高附加值成分的比例(韩国和台湾)和资本商品(日本)。正如表2(下)显示的,在过去 10年,韩国、香港、台湾对中国的出口已经超过他们对美国的出口,而来自日本新加坡对中国的出口迅速接近了他们向美国的出口比例。到2005年,亚洲区域主义以日本为中心的“雁行模式”已经被以中国为中心的生产网络所取代,中国代表亚洲邻居向全球北方出口最终消费品,其他国家为中国提供组装所需的部件和机器。这个结构可以被看作以中国为头目的一群仆人。中国带领其他小兄弟为美国提供廉价的出口品,用辛辛苦苦赚来了积蓄资助美国购买这些商品。

东亚的区域融合比较好地反映在中国出口数据和邻居数据起伏涨落的相关关系上。比如,亚洲从1997-98年金融危机中复苏,日本在2000年后的重新增长至少部分归功于中国的经济增长吸收了他们的制造品部件和资本商品。当现有全球经济危机开始出现,美国消费需求在2008年秋开始大幅度萎缩后,亚洲出口马上下滑,而中国的出口在三个月后下滑到同样的程度。这个时间差的起因是这样一个事实,亚洲出口的下降很大程度上是中国预料到几个月后美国和其他地方对于制成品的订单下降而对部件和资本商品的订单减少的应变量。中国发展模式的局限性---过份依靠西方消费和国内市场的疲软的增长---不可避免地转变成亚洲伙伴的弱点,使得所有这些经济体都暴露在全球北方消费需求大幅度萎缩的危险面前。因此,重新平衡中国的发展不仅是维持其经济增长持续性的需要,也是东亚作为融合的经济联盟的集体未来的需要。

重新平衡的障碍

中国和东亚政府使用外汇储备购买美国债券不仅是寻求所谓稳定和安全的回报,而且是资助美国加速的经常性账户赤字的有意努力的一部分,目的是获得美国对其出口品需求的持久增长。但赤字不能无限期扩张,最终将导致美元或者证券市场的崩溃或者利率的飙升,终结美国的消费狂欢。这不仅是对中国出口引擎的致命打击,而且也通过使得其从前积蓄的投资大幅度贬值而削弱其全球金融力量。

在现有危机之前,中国政府已经实验不同的方法将资产多样化和增加外汇储备的回报率。中国试图投资外国股票和资助国有企业收购跨国公司,但几乎所有的尝试都令人尴尬地失败了。这些与其说是投资决策失误倒不如说是中国外汇储备的超大规模的限制,这使得北京很难在不惊动全球市场的情况下购买或者出售其金融资产。与此同时,中国购买外国大公司仍然可能推动贸易保护主义或者引起民族主义的反弹。结果,中国的海外收购大部分是生意下滑迫切寻求购买者的公司。把持有的资产多样化的障碍非常明显地体现在属于中国政府的电脑公司联想集团2005年购买国际商用机器公司(IBM)的个人电脑业务的没有利润的行动,中国的主权财富基金中国投资公司2007年投资黑石财团造成的巨额损失,2009年中国大型国有能源公司中国铝业公司试图大幅度增加澳大利亚最大的矿石公司力拓(Rio Tinto)的股票引起反华情绪的大爆发。中国储备进口石油和其他商品来应对原材料价格上涨带来的风险,当全球经济下滑造成价格暴跌后也带来巨大的损失。

除了把国家暴露在全球市场的变化无常外,中国的出口为主的模式也大幅度限制了消费。正如上文指出的,中国的出口竞争力是建立在工资的长期停滞基础上的,这又是因为国家偏向城市的政策下农村危机的结果。不是和雇工分享大部分利润提高他们的生活水平,繁荣的出口领域把它的大部分盈余变成了企业的积累,现在成为国家储蓄的大幅度增长。正如图7(下)显示的,从1990年代末期以来,总体工资占GDP的比例一直在下降,伴随而来的是私有消费的下降。这些下降趋势与公司利润的上涨规模形成鲜明对比。虽然消费在绝对数上在上涨,但是其增长幅度远远低于投资增长。(见图8,下)

私人消费的限制不仅让也国内为主的企业难以消化库存,而且让许多外资企业感到失望,他们本来对中国庞大的市场潜力抱有很高的期望。虽然作为从日本、东南亚、巴西等地购买资本产品、工业品部件和自然资源的庞大购买者的地位已经建立起来,中国还没有实现从发达国家和发展中国家进口消费品的主要进口者的巨大潜力。《经济学家》代表这些沮丧的外国投资者抱怨说“中国市场比预料的要小,培养起来所花费的时间更长,因为这么多外资企业加入进来,竞争可能更加激烈,外资如何在中国获得可以接受的利润呢?” [7] 同样的,在谈到中国人的汽车需求远远低于该领域的生产能力,《福布斯》杂志认识到“中国的竞争的加剧导致汽车生产商的生产能力过剩和利润率的快速下降,大概在4-6%之间,和世界其他地方基本一致。” [8]

温家宝总理在2007年总结中国发展是“不协调、不平衡、不稳定、不可持续的”,重新平衡中国发展模式的尝试早就开始了,胡锦涛及其民粹派盟友领导下的中央政府从2005年就尝试通过提高农民和城市工人的可支配收入刺激国内消费。这些尝试的第一波包括了取消农业税,提高政府采购农产品的价格。虽然这些提高农民生活水平的措施决不是朝着正确方向的小步骤,但是它们的影响是短暂的。农业农村地区的稍微改善的条件减少了民工向城市的流动,随后出现的沿海出口加工区的突然的用工荒和工资上涨,诱使许多经济学家宣称“刘易斯拐点”—农业剩余劳动力的终结---终于到来了。 [9]

正如中国“无限的”劳动力供应更多是政策的后果而不是其发展的自然前提,刘易斯拐点的到来实际上是国家尝试扭转从前的偏向城市的尝试的结果而不是市场的看不见的手推动的过程。农民收入和工业工资同步增加是前所未有的,刺激了零售销售额,甚至控制了通货膨胀。(见图9)但是政府刚一迈出朝向国内消费增长的第一步,沿海地区出口领域的既得利益者就大声抱怨其恶化的前景了。他们要求补偿性的政策来确保其竞争力,企图遏制提高工人生活水平的新措施的出台,比如将提高工人赔偿金,使得辞退变得更加困难的新劳动合同法以及人民币管理下的升值。

当全球危机出现,中国的出口引擎熄火,中国2008年11月迅速启动了四万亿的财政刺激一揽子方案(包括政府开支和国有银行的目标贷款)。许多人最初称赞这种大型干预做法作为加速重新平衡中国经济朝向国内消费的宝贵机会,期待刺激方案将主要是社会开支---如资助医疗保险和社会保障账户的---本来能进一步提高国民可支配收入,因而提高劳动阶级购买力的。但实际上,刺激方案中只有不足20%被分配给社会开支,大部分资金进入本来已经受到产能过剩困扰的固定资产投资领域如钢铁和水泥,国家最快速增长的铁路系统的建设,而它的利润率和利用率都是非常不确定的。[10] 没有为社会福利机构或者中小企业提供多大帮助,这个刺激计划只能产生非常有限的可支配收入和就业率的提高。更糟糕的是,中央政府似乎对出口领域的可能突然崩溃恐慌不已,从最初重新平衡努力上退却,重新恢复了一些刺激出口的措施,如对出口企业的增值税退税,终止人民币的升值。这些领域的生产企业甚至使用这个危机呼吁推迟2007年的新劳动合同法以维持其生存。 [11]

尽管其规模巨大,财政刺激方案很少能推动国内消费,因而也无法减少中国的出口依赖。虽然大量资金投向中国的西部省份来纠正沿海和内地的发展差距,但是刺激方案推动的大部分资本密集型、以都市为中心的增长实际上进一步加剧了农村和城市的两极化(见表3)。尽管严重偏向城市的固定资产投资继续,在2005年后缩小的城乡收入增长的差距在刺激方案下将再次拉大。这等于约束了自 2005年以来曾经帮助推动了国内消费微弱增长的相对提高农村生活水平的努力。

大量开支实际上做的是让经济在短期内因为政府领导的投资增加而继续增长,同时等待出口市场的好转。到了2009年夏天,数据显示刺激方案已经成功地阻止了中国经济的自由落体,形成了相当的反弹。但与此同时,2009年前7个月将近90%的GDP增长主要是贷款爆发和政府开支增加造成的固定资产投资推动的。[12] 这些投资的大部分是无效的和没有利润的(见表3)。如果出口市场的转折点没有及时到来,财政赤字、没有效率的贷款和产能过剩的加剧将造成经济在中期的更深层的下滑。用中国著名经济学家的话说,这种超级刺激方案就像“饮鸩止渴”。[13]

前景

在过去20多年里,中国作为东亚生产网络中的最后组装者和出口商确定下来。它也获得了美国最大债权人和拥有外汇最多的国家的地位,表现出成为世界工厂而且成为世界市场的潜力。因此,中国处于很好的地位来通过帮助亚洲和全球南方开辟新的区域,确立全球经济秩序,摆脱对北方尤其是美国市场及其金融的依赖。

但是,中国的领导潜力远远没有变成现实。迄今为止,中国借钱给美国推动它购买中国出口品的战略只能加剧中国及其供应商对美国消费者及美国证券市场的依赖,使得它们在面对全球经济的动荡时变得更加脆弱。中国长期的出口竞争力扎根于让农村破产,延长为沿海出口工业提供低成本劳动力无限供应时间的发展途径。造成的不断增加的贸易盈余可能提升中国的全球金融力量,体现在美国债券拥有量的扩张,但长期压制工资增长限制中国消费能力的增长。现有的金融危机破坏了全球北方消费要求,增加了美国证券市场和美元崩溃的可能性,它已经是来迟了的惊醒呼叫,中国需要赶紧改弦易辙。

北京很清楚进一步积累外汇储备是起反作用的。因为它增加了中国已经拥有的资产的风险或者促成转变为风险更大的资产。政府也非常清楚需要减少国家的出口依赖,通过提高劳动阶级的可支配收入刺激国内需求的增长。这样的优先选择的重新调整涉及到资源和政策倾向从沿海城市向农村内地的转变,那里旷日持久的社会边缘化和消费不足的现状留下很多改进的空间。但是过去几十年出口导向的发展扎根的既得利益集团使得这个转变成为艰巨的任务。已经成为能够影响中央政策的形成和实施的强大利益集团的沿海省份官员和企业家迄今为止坚决反对任何这样的变革。这个派别的中国精英集团是世界经济的出口者和债权人,已经建立起与美国统治阶级的象征性关系,美国集团则试图确保美国公民作为世界消费者和债务人的生活水平,竭力维持其国内霸权地位。虽然太平洋两岸的两个精英团体偶尔争吵,但是他们拥有共同的利益维持各自国内现状以及当今世界经济的不平等现状。

除非存在根本性的政治变革改变沿海都市精英和代表农村草根利益的力量的权力平衡,中国将可能继续勤勤恳恳地带领其他亚洲出口者为美国服务,做美国的人质。盎格鲁撒克逊权势集团最近对亚洲伙伴表现出了更多的尊重,邀请中国成为“中美国”世界秩序或者“两大国”的“利益相关者”。他们的意思是中国不要把船摇翻了,而是应该继续帮助维持美国的经济主宰(作为回报,美国或许更多考虑北京关于西藏和台湾的担忧)。这将使得华盛顿赢得宝贵的时间,通过债务资助的政府投资在绿色技术和其他方面的革新获得对世界经济新领域的控制,从而重新使它在绿色经济中获得霸权地位。这似乎恰恰是奥巴马政府进行的赌博,作为其对全球危机和美国霸权衰落的长期反应。

如果中国要重新定位其发展模式,在国内消费和出口之间获得更大的平衡,它就不能仅仅摆脱对美国崩溃的消费市场的依赖,增加风险极大的美国债券,而且有利于同样渴望摆脱这种危险的亚洲其他经济体。更重要的是,如果其他新兴经济体采取类似的重新定位和南南贸易进一步加深,他们就可能成为相互的消费者,推动全球南方独立和平等的增长的新时代。但是,除非这个情况出现,否则在全球危机后,全球资本主义的中心从西方转到东方,从北方转到南方仍然是一厢情愿的愿望而已。


[1] 本文的初稿曾在2009年5月25-29日在马德里大学(the Universidad Nómada)和雷纳索菲娅艺术中心(the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)举办的纪念乔万尼·阿里吉(Giovanni Arrighi)的会议上宣读。笔者感谢其他参加者的评论。[2] See Roger Altman, ‘The Great Crash, 2008: A Geopolitical Setback for the West’, Foreign Affairs, January–February 2009.[3] John Lie, ‘The State, Industrialization and Agricultural Sufficiency: The Case of South Korea’, Development Policy Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 1991, pp. 37–51.[4] Cheng Li, ‘One Party, Two Coalitions in China’s Politics’, Brookings Institute, 16 August 2009.[5] Huang Jikun, Scott Rozelle and Wang Honglin, ‘Fostering or Stripping Rural China: Modernizing Agriculture and Rural to Urban Capital Flows’, The Developing Economies, vol. 44, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–26.[6] ‘A panda breaks the formation’, Economist, 25 August 2001.[7] ‘A billion three, but not for me’, Economist, 18 March 2004.[8] ‘Speed Bumps for Automakers in China, India’, Forbes, 26 March 2007.[9] Cai Fang and Du Yang, eds, The China Population and Labor Yearbook, vol. 1, Leiden 2009. [10] ‘四万亿内外’,《财经》2009年3月16日。[11] 见‘就业形势严峻,劳动合同法处境尴尬’,《财经》2009年1月4日。[12] ‘中国gdp增长近90%由投资拉动’,《财经》2009年7月16日。[13] 上海中欧国际商学院的许晓南(Xu Xiaonian),引自“中国经济刺激计划在“夏季达沃斯”上受到攻击”, China Post, 13 September 2009.

作者简介:孔诰烽(hung ho-fung),美国印第安纳大学布鲁明顿校区社会学系助理教授译自:AMERICA’S HEAD SERVANT? hung ho-fung

http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=


AMERICA’S HEAD SERVANT?
The PRC’s Dilemma in the Global Crisis
The subprime mortgage crisis and ensuing global downturn led many to speculate whether any challenger might emerge to replace the us as the dominant player in the capitalist world economy. [1] Because the financial crisis in the us and global North had originated in high indebtedness, low productivity and overconsumption, it seemed natural to look to their polar opposites—the East Asian exporters’ huge holdings of us debt, productive capacity and high savings rates—to identify likely candidates. Immediately after last year’s collapse of Lehman Brothers lifted the curtain on the global recession, there were proclamations of the final triumph of the East Asian, and above all Chinese, model of development; American establishment commentators concluded that the Great Crash of 2008 would be the catalyst for a shift of the centre of global capitalism from the us to China. [2]

But by the spring of 2009, many had realized that the East Asian economies were not as formidable as appearances had suggested. While the sharp contraction in demand for imports in the global North had led to crash landings for Asia’s exporters, the prospect of either the us Treasuries market or the dollar bottoming out presented them with the difficult dilemma of either ditching American assets, and hence triggering a dollar collapse, or buying more, preventing an immediate crash but increasing their exposure to one in future. State-directed investment, rolled out late last year under the prc’s mega-stimulus programme, fostered a significant recovery for China as well as its Asian trading partners, but the growth generated is unlikely to be self-sustaining. Chinese economists and policy advisers have been worrying that the prc will falter again once the stimulus effect fades, as it is unlikely that American consumers will be picking up the slack any time soon. Despite all the talk of China’s capacity to destroy the dollar’s reserve-currency status and construct a new global financial order, the prc and its neighbours have few choices in the short term other than to sustain American economic dominance by extending more credit.

In what follows, I will trace the historical and social origins of the deepening dependence of China and East Asia on the consumer markets of the global North as the source of their growth, and on us financial vehicles as the store of value for their savings. I then assess the longer-term possibilities for ending this dependence, arguing that, to create a more autonomous economic order in Asia, China would have to transform an export-oriented growth model—which has mostly benefited, and been perpetuated by, vested interests in the coastal export sectors—into one driven by domestic consumption, through a large-scale redistribution of income to the rural-agricultural sector. This will not be possible, however, without breaking the coastal urban elite’s grip on power.

Tigers and geese
The story of the rapid postwar rise of Japan and the four Tigers—South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore—is well known, and need not be repeated here. But if their dynamic ascent can be attributed to the role of their centralized authorities in directing precious resources to strategic industrial sectors, it is equally important to recognize that it was the Cold War geopolitics of East Asia that made developmental states possible there in the first place. What was being fought during the Cold War period in East Asia was actually a hot war. Communist China’s support for guerrillas and its involvement in the Korean and Vietnam wars had led the region into a permanent state of emergency, and Washington regarded East Asia as the most vulnerable link in its strategy for containing Communism. Considering its key Asian allies—Japan and the four Tigers—too important to fail, it provided them with abundant financial and military aid to jump-start and direct industrial growth, while also keeping American and European markets wide open to Asian manufactured goods. This access to Western markets constituted a further advantage that other developing countries did not enjoy, and without which it is unimaginable that the Asian economies would have had such success. Viewed in this light, the rapid economic growth of East Asia was far from a ‘miracle’. The us engineered it as part of an effort to create subordinate and prosperous bulwarks against Communism in the Asia-Pacific region. These economies were never meant to challenge American geopolitical and geo-economic interests; instead they were subservient clients helping Washington to realize its designs in the region.

Organized in multilayered subcontracting production networks centred on Japan, Asian exporters occupied different links in the value chain, each specializing in goods at a particular level of profitability and technological sophistication. Japan focused on the most high-value-added items, the four Tigers on middle-range products and the emerging Tigers in Southeast Asia on low-cost, labour-intensive ones. This famous flying-geese pattern formed a network of reliable suppliers of a wide range of consumer products to the First World.

When Cold War tensions started to ease in the 1980s, us current-account and fiscal deficits were mounting as a result of neoliberal tax cuts and escalating military expenditure in the final stages of the Cold War. Instead of breaking out of the orbit of American hegemony, however, the Asian economies tightened their ties to the us by financing its skyrocketing twin deficits. East Asia’s export-oriented industrialization had been coupled with low domestic consumption. Subsequent trade surpluses and high savings rates enabled these states to accumulate substantial financial power in the form of large foreign-exchange reserves. Regarding us Treasuries as the safest investment in global finance, most East Asian exporters voluntarily parked their hoarded cash in low-yield us Treasury bonds, turning themselves into America’s principal creditors. Their financing of the us current-account deficit then fuelled America’s appetite for Asian imports, and the further increase in Asian trade surpluses led to yet more purchases of Treasury bonds. These mutually reinforcing processes continuously amplified East Asia’s market and financial dependence on the us, helping to prolong its fragile prosperity while American hegemony unravelled.














Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in the 90s, the prc’s market reforms turned it into a latecoming Asian Tiger. Many predicted that it would be uniquely capable of breaking away from Asia’s twin dependence on the us because of its geopolitical autonomy and exceptional demographic and economic size. But so far China has not freed itself from the servitude of providing America with cheap credit and low-cost imports. Worse, the intensity of the prc’s export-led and private-consumption-repressing growth model has made its market and financial dependence on the us even greater than that of its predecessors. If we compare the most important aspects of China’s political economy with those of its neighbours at a similar stage of development, we find that the Chinese model is largely a replication in extreme form of earlier East Asian growth. Figure 1 shows that the Chinese economy’s trade dependence, as measured by the total value of exports as a percentage of gdp, has been mounting continuously, reaching a level never attained in other East Asian economies. On the other hand, the weight of Chinese private consumption as a percentage of gdp has been declining, dropping well below that of the other countries during their takeoff (Figure 2). As Table 1 indicates, for China—like Japan and the Asian Tigers before it—the us is the single most important export market, only surpassed recently by the eu taken as a whole. China has already become America’s leading Asian supplier.

The drastic expansion of China’s export industries not only accounts for its stellar economic growth, but also, through its enlarged trade surplus, its global financial power. As shown in Figure 3 below, China’s foreign-exchange reserves now well exceed those of its East Asian neighbours. So far China has, like the other exporters, been investing most of its savings in us Treasury bonds. By the eve of the subprime mortgage crisis, China had emerged as the largest exporter to the us and at the same time its largest creditor, financing America’s current-account deficit and sustaining its capacity to absorb imports (see Figure 4). While China’s low-cost exports helped lower us inflation, its massive purchase of Treasury bonds helped reduce their yields and thus also us interest rates. In so doing, China emerged in recent years as the principal upholder of us economic vitality.

Agrarian crisis
China’s ability to institute an extreme version of the East Asian export-led growth model over the last three decades hinged on both the global conjuncture and the prc’s internal political economy. First, China’s labour-intensive takeoff coincided with the onset of an unprecedented expansion in global free trade since the 1980s. Were it not for the outsourcing of industry from the global North and the latter’s mounting appetite for low-cost manufactured imports, the prc would have found it impossible to export its way to prosperity. More importantly, China’s exceptional competitiveness is largely founded on the prolonged stagnation of manufacturing wages in comparison with other Asian countries at equivalent stages of development.

Many argue that China’s wage competitiveness originates in its fixed exchange-rate regime, which undervalues its currency considerably. Others assert that China’s huge surplus of rural labour allowed it to develop with an ‘unlimited’ supply of labour for much longer than other Asian economies. But closer scrutiny reveals both of these explanations to be inadequate. First, as Figure 5 (below) shows, the difference between China’s wage levels and those of its neighbours is much greater than could be explained by an undervalued currency. Even if the yuan appreciated by 20–30 per cent relative to the dollar—as many American critics of China’s currency manipulation advocate—Chinese wages would still be significantly lower. Second, an unlimited supply of labour is not a natural phenomenon given by China’s population structure, as is so often assumed. Rather, it is a consequence of the government’s rural-agricultural policies which, intentionally or unintentionally, bankrupt the countryside and generate a continuous rural exodus.














The relation between these policies and low wage levels can be illustrated by contrasting China’s rural development with that of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which also had large rural populations and agrarian sectors at the beginning of their economic takeoff. In postwar Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had actively directed resources to the countryside through rural infrastructure spending, agricultural development financing, farm subsidies and tariffs on foreign produce. In South Korea, the Park regime launched the New Village Movement (Saemaul Undong) in the early 1970s, diverting significant fiscal resources to upgrade rural infrastructure, finance agricultural mechanization, and set up rural educational institutions and co-operatives. This initiative was a remarkable success: it increased rural household income from 67 per cent of urban income in 1970 to 95 per cent in 1974, virtually obliterating the rural–urban income gap. [3] In Taiwan, the kmt government pursued similar policies in the 1960s and 70s, alongside conscious efforts to promote rural industrialization. The resulting decentralized structure of Taiwanese industry allowed farmers to work seasonally in nearby factories without abandoning farming altogether or migrating to big cities. This helped retain a considerable share of labour resources in the village, fostering a more balanced rural–urban growth; throughout the 1960s and 70s, per capita rural income was always above 60 per cent of the urban level. Under such policies, it is not surprising that the surplus of rural labour rapidly dried up and manufacturing wages soared in these countries.

The reasons for the adoption of these different paths varied. In Japan, the significance of rural votes to the ldp’s electoral success explained its attention to rural development. For the right-wing authoritarian regimes in South Korea and Taiwan, the promotion of rural-agricultural development was a way to minimize the social dislocation that usually accompanies industrialization and preempt the rise of leftist influences in the countryside. It was also a crucial way to ensure food security in the context of Cold War tensions. In contrast, China’s industrial development since the mid-1980s has been much more imbalanced than that of Japan, South Korea or Taiwan. Over the last twenty years, the Chinese government has largely concentrated investment in the urban-industrial sector, particularly in coastal areas, with rural and agricultural investment lagging behind. State-owned banks have also focused their efforts on financing urban-industrial development, while rural and agricultural financing were neglected. In the last two decades, rural per capita income has never exceeded 40 per cent of the urban level.

This urban bias emerged at least partly due to the dominance of a powerful urban-industrial elite from the Southern coastal regions—a segment which germinated after China’s initial integration into the global economy, expanded its financial resources and political influence with the export boom, and became increasingly adept at shaping central government policy in its favour. According to a recent assessment, the ccp’s ‘elitist faction’—comprised of senior leaders who built their careers in coastal regions and in trade and finance administrations—controls more seats in the Politburo than their rival ‘populist faction’, which has stronger ties to inland provinces. Though Hu Jintao, the current head of state, is a leader of the populist faction, Xi Jinping—chosen by the Party to succeed Hu in 2012 over Hu’s own favourite—had been the head of the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, and is a leading figure in the elitist faction. [4] Their growing leverage ensured that more attention was given to enhancing China’s export competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investment, rather than to agrarian development. The urban revolts of 1989—stemming from hyper-inflation and deteriorating living standards in big cities—only made the party-state more determined to ensure the economic prosperity of metropolitan areas at the expense of the countryside in the 1990s.

The result of this urban bias has been relative economic stagnation in the countryside and a concomitant fiscal stringency on the part of rural local governments. From the 1990s onwards, the deterioration of agricultural incomes and the demise of collective rural industries—the township and village enterprises (tves) which used to be vibrant generators of employment in the early stages of market reform—forced most young labourers in the countryside to leave for the city, creating a vicious cycle which has precipitated a rural social crisis. China’s agrarian sector was not only neglected, however, it was also exploited in support of urban growth. A recent study has found that there was a sustained and increasing net transfer of resources from the rural-agricultural to the urban-industrial sector between 1978 and 2000, both through fiscal policy (via taxation and government spending) and the financial system (via savings deposits and loans). [5] The exceptions to this trend were the years when the urban economy experienced a temporary downturn, such as the aftermath of the 1997–98 Asian Financial Crisis (see Figure 6, below).

The prc’s urban-biased development model, then, is the source of China’s prolonged ‘limitless’ supply of labour, and thus of the wage stagnation that has characterized its economic miracle. This pattern also accounts for China’s rising trade surplus, the source of its growing global financial power. However, the low wages and rural living standards that have resulted from this development strategy have constrained China’s domestic consumer market and deepened its dependence on the global North’s consumption demand, which increasingly relies on massive borrowing from China and other Asian exporters. As those other exporters have been integrated with China’s export engine through the regionalization of industrial production networks, the vulnerabilities of the Chinese economy have turned into weaknesses of the East Asian region as a whole.








Sinocentric dependency
In the 1990s, China gradually established itself as the most competitive Asian exporter of products at various levels of technological sophistication. As a result, the others—including Japan and the original four Tigers, together with a group of emerging ones in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Thailand—were put under intense pressure to adjust. The prc’s competitiveness induced many export manufacturers to relocate there from elsewhere in Asia. An Economist report in 2001 noted the ‘alarm and despair’ with which China’s neighbours reacted to its rise:

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan fear a ‘hollowing out’ of their industries, as factories move to low-cost China. Southeast Asia worries about ‘dislocation’ in trade and investment flows. . . . China is no [flying] goose . . . because it makes simple goods and sophisticated ones at the same time, rag nappies and microchips . . . [It] makes goods spanning the entire value chain, on a scale that determines world prices. Hence East Asia’s anxiety. If China is more efficient at everything, what is there left for its neighbours to do? [6]
It is certainly the case that China’s neighbours painstakingly restructured their export sectors to minimize head-on competition with the prc and profit from its rise. Under the old East Asian industrial order, each economy had exported specific groups of finished consumer products. Now these countries began to increase the proportion of high value-added components (Korea and Taiwan) and capital goods (Japan) in their exports to the People’s Republic.

As Table 2 (below) indicates, exports to China from South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan overtook their exports to the us over the last decade, while those from Japan and Singapore to China rapidly approached the share of their exports going to America. By 2005, the Japan-centred flying geese model of Asian regionalism had been replaced by a Sinocentric production network in which China exported most final consumer goods to the global North on behalf of its Asian neighbours, which provided China with the necessary parts and machines for assembly. This structure can be seen as a team of servants with China at the head, leading the others in providing cheap exports to the us and using its hard-earned savings to finance American purchases of those exports.

Regional integration in East Asia is well reflected in the correlation between the ups and downs of China’s export figures and those of its neighbours. For example, Asia’s recovery from the financial crisis of 1997–98, and Japan’s renewed growth after 2000, are attributable at least in part to the Chinese economic boom absorbing their manufactured components and capital goods. When the current global crisis began to unfold and consumer demand in the us started to contract sharply in the autumn of 2008, Asian exports plunged immediately, while those of the prc dived to a similar extent only about three months later. The cause of this time lag was the fact that the drop in Asian exports was largely a function of a decline in orders for parts and capital goods from China, in anticipation of plummeting orders for the final products from America and elsewhere in the months to come. The limitations of the Chinese development model—overdependence on consumption in the West and lethargic growth in the domestic market—inevitably translate into vulnerabilities for its Asian partners, leaving all of these economies exposed to any major contraction of consumption demand in the global North. Rebalancing China’s development, therefore, is not only necessary for the sustainability of its economic growth, but also for the collective future of East Asia as an integrated economic bloc.








Obstacles to rebalancing
Chinese and East Asian governments have employed their foreign reserves to purchase us debt not only in search of presumably stable and safe returns, but also as part of a deliberate effort to finance America’s escalating current-account deficit, and hence secure a continuous increase in us demand for their own exports. But the deficit cannot expand indefinitely, and could eventually result in the collapse of the dollar or the Treasuries market and a hike in interest rates, putting an end to America’s consumption spree. This would not only be a mortal blow to China’s export engine, but would also decimate its global financial power through a drastic devaluation of its pre-existing investments.

Prior to the current crisis, the Chinese government had been experimenting with different ways to diversify and increase returns on its foreign-reserve holdings. It had tried investing in foreign equities and financing state-owned companies’ acquisitions of transnational corporations, but nearly all attempts ended in embarrassing failures. These were less the result of bad investment decisions than of constraints imposed by the exceptional size of China’s foreign reserves, which make it difficult for Beijing to move in and out of certain financial assets freely without disrupting global markets. At the same time, Chinese purchases of major foreign companies remain likely to prompt a protectionist or nationalist backlash. As a result, China’s overseas acquisitions have mostly been declining businesses desperately in search of buyers. These obstacles to diversifying its holdings were evident in the unprofitable 2005 purchase of ibm’s pc business by Lenovo, a major computer corporation affiliated with the Chinese government; the massive loss incurred by the 2007 investment in Blackstone by the China Investment Corporation, the prc’s sovereign wealth fund; and the upsurge of anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia triggered by the 2009 attempt by Chinalco, a giant state-owned resource company, to raise significantly its stake in Rio Tinto, Australia’s biggest mining company. China’s stockpiling of imported petroleum and other commodities, to hedge against rising raw-material prices, also brought substantial losses when their prices plummeted in the wake of the global downturn.

Besides exposing the country to the vicissitudes of global markets, China’s export-oriented model has drastically curtailed consumption. As noted earlier, the prc’s export competitiveness has been built upon long-term wage stagnation, which arose in turn from an agrarian crisis under an urban-biased policy regime. Rather than sharing a greater part of profits with employees and raising their living standards, the thriving export sector has turned most of its surplus into enterprise savings, which now constitute a large proportion of aggregate national savings. As Figure 7 (below) shows, from the late 1990s onwards total wages declined as a share of gdp, in tandem with a fall in private consumption. These two downward trends contrast starkly with the mounting scale of corporate profits. Although consumption has been rising in absolute terms, it has grown far more slowly than investment (see Figure 8, below).

This curtailment of private consumption has not only made it difficult for domestic-oriented firms to run down their inventories, it has also brought frustrations for many foreign businesses with high expectations of China’s supposedly gigantic market. Though already established as a significant buyer of capital goods, manufactured components and natural resources from Japan, Southeast Asia, Brazil and elsewhere, China has yet to actualize much of its potential as a key importer of consumer goods from the developed and industrializing world alike. The Economist complained on behalf of these disheartened foreign investors that ‘the market will turn out to be smaller than expected and take longer to develop; and because so many foreign businesses are piling in, competition is likely to be fierce . . . How can foreign firms generate acceptable returns in China?’ [7] In similar vein, when it turned out that Chinese demand for automobiles had grown much more slowly than the sector’s production capacity, Forbes magazine recognized that ‘rising competition in China has led to manufacturing overcapacity and a rapid decline in car makers’ profit margins there to a level largely in line with the rest of the world, at 4 to 6 per cent’. [8]








In an attempt to initiate a rebalancing of China’s development—characterized by Premier Wen Jiabao in 2007 as ‘unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable’—the central government under Hu Jintao and his ‘populist’ allies had tried from 2005 to fuel domestic consumption by boosting the disposable income of peasants and urban workers. The first wave of such initiatives included the abolition of agricultural taxes and a rise in government procurement prices for agricultural products. Though these measures to raise rural living standards were no more than a small step in the right direction, their effect was instantaneous. Slightly improved conditions in the rural-agricultural sector slowed the flow of migration to the cities, and a sudden labour shortage and wage hike in the coastal export-processing zones ensued, inducing many economists to declare that the Lewisian Turning Point—at which rural surplus labour has been exhausted—had finally arrived. [9]















Just as China’s ‘unlimited’ supply of labour was more a consequence of policy than a natural precondition of its development, the arrival of the Lewisian Turning Point was in fact the outcome of state attempts to reverse a previous urban bias rather than of a process driven by the market’s invisible hand. The concomitant to rising peasant income and industrial wages was unprecedented, soaring retail sales, even controlled for inflation (see Figure 9). But no sooner had the government taken its first step toward domestic consumption-driven growth than vested interests in the coastal export sector complained loudly about their worsening prospects. They asked for compensating policies to safeguard their competitiveness, and attempted to sabotage further initiatives to raise the living standards of the working classes, such as the New Labour Contract Law—which would increase workers’ remuneration and make firing them more difficult—and the managed appreciation of the yuan.

When the global crisis struck and China’s export engine stalled, the prc immediately rolled out a mega-fiscal-stimulus package amounting to us $570 billion (including both government spending and targeted loans from state-owned banks) in November 2008. Many initially celebrated this massive intervention as a precious opportunity to accelerate the rebalancing of the Chinese economy towards domestic consumption, and expected that the stimulus would consist principally of social spending—such as financing for medical insurance and social-security accounts—which could further raise the disposable income and hence purchasing power of the working classes. However, no more than 20 per cent of the stimulus package was in fact allocated to social spending; the large majority went to fixed-asset investment in sectors already plagued by overcapacity, such as steel and cement, and in the construction of the world’s biggest high-speed rail system, whose profitability and utility are uncertain. [10] Without providing much assistance to social-welfare institutions or small and medium labour-intensive enterprises, the stimulus package will generate only limited improvements in disposable income and employment. Worse, the central government, seemingly horrified by the sudden collapse of the export sector, retreated from its rebalancing efforts and resumed a number of export-promotion measures, such as rebates on value-added taxes on exports and halting the appreciation of the yuan. Manufacturers in these sectors even made use of the crisis to call for a suspension of the 2007 New Labour Contract Law for the sake of their survival. [11]

Despite its impressive size, the fiscal stimulus will do little to promote domestic consumption and hence reduce China’s export dependence. Though a large quantity of funds was directed to the Western provinces to redress the development gap between coastal and inland areas, the mostly capital-intensive, urban-oriented growth promoted by the stimulus has actually aggravated the rural–urban polarization (see Table 3). While the heavy urban bias of fixed-asset investment continued, the urban–rural gap in income growth, which narrowed after 2005, widened again under the stimulus. This has put a brake on the relative rise in rural living standards since 2005, which had helped fuel modest growth in domestic consumption.








What the massive spending actually does is to keep the economy roaring with a state-led investment spurt in the short run, while waiting for the export market to turn around. By the summer of 2009, data showed that the stimulus had successfully halted the free fall of the Chinese economy and fostered a modest rebound. But at the same time, nearly 90 per cent of gdp growth in the first seven months of 2009 was driven solely by fixed-asset investments fuelled by a loan explosion and increased government spending. [12] Many of these investments are inefficient and generally unprofitable (see Table 3). If the turnaround of the export market does not come in time, the fiscal deficit, non-performing loans and the exacerbation of overcapacity will generate a deeper downturn in the medium term. In the words of a prominent Chinese economist, this mega-stimulus programme is like ‘drinking poison to quench a thirst’. [13]

Prospects
Over the course of the last two decades, China has emerged as the final assembler and exporter in an East Asian network of production. It has also attained the status of largest creditor to the us and largest holder of foreign reserves, and demonstrated the potential to become the market of the world in addition to being its workshop. China is thus well poised to carve out a new regional and global economic order by helping Asia and the global South to move out of their market and financial dependence on the North in general and the us in particular.

China’s potential to lead, however, is far from being actualized. So far, the prc’s strategy of lending to the us to facilitate purchases of Chinese exports has only deepened China’s, as well as its suppliers’, dependence on American consumers and the us bond market, making them vulnerable to any turbulence in the global economy. The prc’s long-term export competitiveness is rooted in a developmental approach that bankrupts the countryside and prolongs the unlimited supply of low-cost migrant labour to coastal export industries. The resultant ever-increasing trade surplus may inflate China’s global financial power, in the form of expanded holdings of us debt, but the long-term suppression of wages restrains the growth of China’s consumption power. The current financial crisis, which has decimated consumer demand in the global North and increased the likelihood of a collapse of the us bond market and the dollar, is a belated wake-up call for an urgent change of course.

Beijing is well aware that further accumulation of foreign reserves is counterproductive, since it would increase the risk associated with the assets China already holds or else induce a shift to ever riskier ones. The government is also very aware of the need to reduce the country’s export dependence and stimulate the growth of domestic demand by increasing the working classes’ disposable income. Such a redirection of priorities has to involve moving resources and policy preferences away from the coastal cities to the rural hinterland, where protracted social marginalization and underconsumption have left ample room for improvement. But the vested interests that have taken root over several decades of export-led development make this a daunting task. Officials and entrepreneurs from the coastal provinces, who have become a powerful group capable of shaping the formation and implementation of central government policies, are so far adamant in their resistance to any such reorientation. This dominant faction of China’s elite, as exporters and creditors to the world economy, has established a symbiotic relation with the American ruling class, which has striven to maintain its domestic hegemony by securing the living standards of us citizens, as consumers and debtors to the world. Despite occasional squabbles, the two elite groups on either side of the Pacific share an interest in perpetuating their respective domestic status quos, as well as the current imbalance in the global economy.

Unless there is a fundamental political realignment that shifts the balance of power from the coastal urban elite to forces that represent rural grassroots interests, China is likely to continue leading other Asian exporters in diligently serving—and being held hostage by—the us. The Anglo-Saxon establishment has recently become more respectful towards its Asian partners, inviting China to become a ‘stakeholder’ in a ‘ChiAmerican’ global order, or ‘g2’. What they mean is that China should not rock the boat, but should continue to help maintain American economic dominance (in return, perhaps, for more consideration of Beijing’s concerns over Tibet and Taiwan). This would enable Washington to buy precious time to secure its command over emergent sectors of the world economy through debt-financed government investment in green technology and other innovations, and hence remake its ailing supremacy into a green hegemony. This seems to be exactly what the Obama administration is betting on as its long-term response to the global crisis and declining American power.

If China were to re-orient its developmental model and achieve greater balance between domestic consumption and exports, it could not only free itself from dependence on the collapsing us consumer market and addiction to risky us debt, but also benefit manufacturers in other Asian economies that are equally eager to escape these dangers. More importantly, if other emerging economies were to pursue a similar re-orientation and South–South trade were to deepen, then they could become one another’s consumers, ushering in a new age of autonomous and equitable growth in the global South. Until that happens, however, a recentring of global capitalism from West to East and from North to South in the aftermath of the global crisis remains little more than wishful thinking.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[1] An earlier version of this essay was presented at the conference hosted by the Universidad Nómada and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, in honour of Giovanni Arrighi on 25–29 May 2009. I am grateful for comments from other participants there.
[2] See Roger Altman, ‘The Great Crash, 2008: A Geopolitical Setback for the West’, Foreign Affairs, January–February 2009.
[3] John Lie, ‘The State, Industrialization and Agricultural Sufficiency: The Case of South Korea’, Development Policy Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 1991, pp. 37–51.
[4] Cheng Li, ‘One Party, Two Coalitions in China’s Politics’, Brookings Institute, 16 August 2009.
[5] Huang Jikun, Scott Rozelle and Wang Honglin, ‘Fostering or Stripping Rural China: Modernizing Agriculture and Rural to Urban Capital Flows’, The Developing Economies, vol. 44, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–26.
[6] ‘A panda breaks the formation’, Economist, 25 August 2001.
[7] ‘A billion three, but not for me’, Economist, 18 March 2004.
[8] ‘Speed Bumps for Automakers in China, India’, Forbes, 26 March 2007.
[9] Cai Fang and Du Yang, eds, The China Population and Labor Yearbook, vol. 1, Leiden 2009.
[10] ‘Siwanyi neiwai’ [Inside and outside of the four thousand billion], Caijing, 16 March 2009.
[11] See ‘Jiuye xingshi yanjun laodong hetong fa chujing ganga’ [Severe unemployment jeopardizes labour contract law], Caijing, 4 January 2009.
[12] ‘Zhongguo gdp zengzhang jin 90% you touzi ladong’ [Nearly 90 per cent of China’s gdp growth was driven by investment], Caijing, 16 July 2009.
[13] Xu Xiaonian of the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, quoted in ‘China Stimulus Plan Comes Under Attack at “Summer Davos”’, China Post, 13 September 2009.
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