Forget about the China slowdown. That was the distinct message I took away from my annual trek to the China Development Forum in Beijing. Since its inception in 2000, I have attended five of the six Forums. Over the years, I have found this to be the single most important conference in China. Hosted by the Premier and the State Council — China’s cabinet — it is scheduled immediately after the National People’s Congress, thereby providing the senior Chinese leadership with its first opportunity to engage the international community on the new policy agenda for the year. In past years, the Forum has provided a clear read on major policy changes to come — China’s countercyclical actions during the world recession of 2001 and last year’s tightening measures were important cases in point. This year was no exception.
The basic message from China’s senior economic and financial decision makers is that the medicine has worked — that last year’s combination of so-called administrative measures and macro adjustments was successful in tempering the excesses of an overheated Chinese economy. In the words of Premier Wen Jiabao in his national “work report” delivered in early March, these measures ” worked to solve prominent problems threatening steady and rapid economic development.” Contrast that with his comments a year ago when he stressed that “overheating is my biggest concern.” As is always the case in Chinese economic policy, the Premier has the first and final word — the rest of the economic team very much marches to the same beat. That was certainly the case at this year’s China Development Forum.