China’s Ticking Debt Bomb
From afar China appears to be staying afloat of the massive economic crisis affecting the world. The Diplomat takes a closer look into the tenuous economic structure keeping China ahead of the rest of the world.
China appeared to weather the global economic downturn better than most. But massive local government debt could bring growth to a screeching halt.
China’s remarkable economic rebound after the global economic crisis in 2008-2009 has been a source of envy and puzzlement for the rest of the world. Instead of recession, the Chinese economy has recorded double-digit growth, and is actually showing signs of overheating – a sharp contrast with the stagnation in most Western countries. How did the Chinese do it? Perhaps advocates of ‘Chinese exceptionalism’ are right after all: Beijing has found a secret formula of economic success that has eluded the West.
Part of the answer to this mystery was given in late June by the Chinese government. It turns out that Beijing has managed to keep its economy growing during the global slump by resorting to massive bank lending to local governments, which then went on an infrastructure spending binge that’s certain to haunt the country for years to come. If we remember the causes of the economic crisis that has ravaged the United States and Western Europe, the most important one is something euphemistically termed ‘credit boom’ – excessive lending and borrowing that fuelled housing bubbles and unsustainable consumption. China seems to have been afflicted with the same disease, with only one major variation: much of the debt incurred in China has gone into the infrastructure sector, not consumption. So much for Chinese exceptionalism.