How China can avoid an 'economic hard landing'

Updated: 2013-11-04 07:49

By AMY HE in New York (China Daily USA)

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How China can avoid an 'economic hard landing'

Panelists have a discussion at the annual Chinese Finance Association conference in New York. From left: Charles Himmelberg, credit strategist at Goldman Sachs; Kathleen Stephansen, chief economist at AIG; and Savita Subramanian, head of US equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Amy He / China Daily

A week before the third plenary session is to take place in Beijing, experts gathered in New York to discuss the evolving relationship between the US and China and how the Chinese economy will fare in the coming years.

Academics and business leaders at the conference — Headwind or Tailwind: What Lies Ahead for China & the World? — discussed how China could avoid an economic "hard landing", wondering if and how it could stand on its own if central banks were to start unwinding quantitative easing. The conference was hosted by the Chinese Finance Association and took place on Sunday at New York University.

Wesley Clark, chairman and CEO of strategic consulting firm Wesley K. Clark & Associates, said in opening remarks that the US-China relationship had a moment of divergence in 2008 when the financial crisis hit. With the economic collapse the crisis brought on, the "luster of the American economy disappeared", he said.

Now, five years after the crisis, the US and China are approaching a moment where they have to embrace not only a "diverging future" but also "converging interests," Clark said, and both countries have to figure out how to bring the relationship back together, particularly in the realm of politics.

Clark, a retired four-star general with the US Army, said the two countries have traditionally had very different political strategies. "China has a long-term plan that focuses internally," he said. "The United States focuses outwardly." The two countries come from different perspectives but have to show "mutual respect, mutual understanding" towards each other in order to work together.

By acknowledging their differences, the US and China can reinvigorate their relationship, Clark said, which is the most crucial one on the global stage. "We're the two countries that are most important for the future of mankind. We have to work together. We're mutually dependent and we're great synergies," he said.

Economically, half a decade after the financial crisis, the US has been recovering at a sluggish pace, which impacts the global economy as well.

"The shock that we've seen in 2008 is of such magnitude that it probably takes a good decade to fully adjust," said Kathleen Stephansen, chief economist at AIG. "We are half-way there, we are lucky that the US and other countries are growing at the moment, but there's still adjustments that need to take place."

The foreign sector, she said, is still "relatively timid", its demand impulse not as strong as it was before the crisis. China in particular is faced with less fiscal stimulus and more credit constraints, leading to a "massive deceleration in growth".

The structural challenge seen in China "as a result of the massive stimulus that took place in response to the crisis is that now you see an overleveraged corporate sector," Stephansen said. "As a result, the credit expansion is no longer helping GDP growth."

China will be faced with a very different model of growth in the near future, Stephansen said, especially because of any announced reforms from the coming plenum meeting next week.

"To what extent [the announced reforms] will allow this economy to move to a more consumer-based economy is really the big question mark," she said. "I tend to be somewhat optimistic that this will take place. You can see that there's room for the consumer sector, the household sector, to essentially bring about a larger role in economic growth."

Stephansen said that she's optimistic about growth, even if slow, and that emerging market growth will outperform that in advanced economies.