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Can China's Rapid Economic Growth Be Sustained?

  • Barry Wood

China's rapid economic growth and demand for a larger share of the world's energy resources are raising questions about whether Beijing can sustain a nine percent annual growth rate and what the consequences might be for the global economy. VOA's Barry Wood has the views of analysts in Washington, who addressed a forum at the American Enterprise Institute on the question: Can China's economic growth be sustained?

Nicholas Lardy of the Institute of International Economics says, yes, the spectacular progress China has registered since it launched market-based reforms 25 years ago is sustainable. He believes China's success, which has lifted 300 million people out of poverty, will persist, and he dismisses the argument that China's growth could be hindered by challenges such as environmental degradation, uncertain energy supplies, water shortages and growing income inequality.

"I essentially don't agree with that approach. I think, if you look back over the past 25 years, you see that, at every point in time, you could have come up with a list of major challenges," he said. "I think the record speaks for itself. I think the Chinese have addressed some challenges, although some of them have been usually deferred. But, I basically take the view that many of these things are manageable."

Mr. Lardy lists a number of reasons why China has become the world's most successful developing economy. They include the shift to market pricing, having the world's highest savings rate, a sectoral shift from agriculture to industry and services and an extraordinary openness to the world economy. China, he says, is four times more open to imports than Japan, and its tariffs are among the lowest in the world.

Another speaker, energy specialist Mikkal Herberg, identifies China's huge and growing appetite for energy as a possible impediment to growth. He says, at current growth rates, China will soon face unprecedented demand for imports of oil and coal.

"This gives you a picture of how much of Middle East oil exports already go to Asia, roughly two-thirds. And that is just going to expand over time," he said. "And this gives you a vision of why this nexus between Asia and the Gulf - Middle East - is getting strong, and is going to be even stronger in the future."

Mr. Herberg, who heads the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle, Washington, says the Chinese leadership is determined to safeguard its future oil supplies. That effort and its accompanying military buildup, he believes, could increase tension between China and the United States. He says the growing U.S. military involvement in central Asia has given rise to a fear in Beijing that China is being strategically encircled by the United States.