Stalling Giant: Is China’s Rapid Ascent Reaching Its Peak?

China’s extraordinary economic ascent has been a defining global phenomenon for the past four decades. However, there are growing indications that the country’s rapid rise is entering a new phase characterized by a slowdown in its growth trajectory. While Chinese President Xi Jinping envisions a “great rejuvenation” for the nation, experts now foresee a more modest shift towards economic parity rather than a dramatic overtaking of the United States. As China’s economic recovery falters and its growth weakens, questions arise about the implications for its global power dynamics.

Slower Growth and Concerns: China’s recent economic data has fallen short of expectations, raising doubts about the strength of its rebound following the dismantling of its zero-Covid policies. Industrial output grew by 5.6% in April, well below the anticipated 10.9%, while retail sales expanded by 18.4%, missing the forecasted surge of 21%. Fixed asset investment also grew at a slower rate than expected. These figures indicate that the recovery is not meeting investors’ expectations, with momentum from pent-up demand appearing to fade away.

Challenges and Lingering Concerns: Various factors contribute to China’s economic challenges. A decline of 6.2% in property investment, worse than expected, raises concerns about a property crisis. Youth unemployment reached a record high of 20.4%, which dampens confidence and hampers consumption recovery. Additionally, the lingering impact of the pandemic, stalling credit growth, a weaker housing market, and uncertainties in global demand affecting Chinese exports further cloud the economic outlook.

Market Sentiment and Government Actions: Market sentiment remains weak, reflecting concerns about China’s economic trajectory. Goldman Sachs economist Hui Shan suggests that the government may implement symbolic measures such as reserve requirement ratio cuts to boost confidence. However, experts highlight the need for decisive government actions to proactively stimulate the economy and restore sentiment. Citi economists anticipate a 20 basis points policy rate cut in the remainder of the year and emphasize the importance of transitioning from a wait-and-see approach to proactive easing.

Implications for Power Dynamics: China’s economic slowdown raises questions about the potential impact on its global power dynamics. While the country’s rise has reshaped the global economy, its ability to reshape the geopolitical order may face challenges if economic growth continues to decelerate. The shift from an explosive rise to a more mature economy necessitates careful analysis of China’s future trajectory and its implications for its role on the world stage.

China’s historic ascent has been remarkable, propelling it to the forefront of the global economy and stirring discussions about its future trajectory. However, recent economic data suggests a slowdown in growth, prompting concerns about the country’s power dynamics. As China faces challenges in its economic recovery, questions emerge about its ability to fulfill President Xi’s vision of rejuvenation and reshape the global order.

The outcome of China’s maturation will significantly shape the country’s role in the world and influence the balance of power in the coming years. If this is indeed the peak and the beginning of a downward slope then perhaps we can expect the following.

Geopolitical Power: China’s rise as an economic powerhouse has been closely linked to its growing geopolitical influence. A slower economy could potentially hinder China’s ability to assert itself as a global leader and challenge the existing world order. Economic strength often translates into political influence, and if China’s economic growth decelerates, its ability to exert influence on the global stage may be limited.

Soft Power: China has been investing heavily in building its soft power, utilizing economic influence as a means to shape narratives, promote its cultural values, and extend its reach globally. A weaker economy could undermine these efforts, as economic prosperity often enhances a country’s soft power appeal. It may become more challenging for China to project a positive image and maintain its cultural influence if its economic growth slows down.

Trade and Investments: China’s economic growth has been driven by its export-oriented manufacturing sector and its ability to attract foreign investments. A reduced economy could impact China’s trade relationships and investment attractiveness. It may face challenges in maintaining its position as the world’s manufacturing hub and could see a decline in foreign direct investment. This, in turn, could affect its influence over global supply chains and its ability to shape trade policies.

Regional Dynamics: China’s economic power has allowed it to extend its influence in its neighboring regions, particularly in Asia through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative. A weaker economy could dampen its ability to sustain these projects and exert influence over neighboring countries. It may face difficulties in securing cooperation and partnerships, potentially creating opportunities for other regional powers to fill the void.

Technological Advancement: China has been investing heavily in technological innovation to drive its economic growth and enhance its influence globally. A slowdown in the economy could impact China’s ability to maintain its technological edge and compete with other tech powerhouses. It may find it harder to attract talent and secure necessary resources for research and development, potentially impeding its ambitions in areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and emerging technologies.