The Definitive Guide To China - Must Read

“After a great deal of time spent travelling in China, reading about China and thinking deep thoughts about China, I have come to the conclusion that the most profound thing one can say about it is this: China is exceedingly big.”

David Pilling, Financial Times

Following up on the earlier news of more Chinese rate hike speculations, we present what is arguably the most comprehensive summary of the country that conventional wisdom sees as becoming the world's biggest economy within a decade, and less than conventional wisdom sees as the biggest bubble in the history of the world. As report authors HSBC point out: "What emerges from this guide is a more complex picture of China than even many experts have assumed. For anyone hoping to conclude a business deal in China it offers this message: don’t assume you only have to deal with decision-makers in Beijing. You must also make sure local officials are on your side. Whether you are a China expert or a mere beginner, we hope you enjoy what follows." Must read for everyone (especially Americans) to get a sense of what the future rulers of the world will be like.

Some of the key observations:

  • This “bottom up” perspective on China, rather than the usual “top down” one, has thrown up some extraordinary statistics.
  • By 2020, China will have six provinces with an annual GDP of more than USD1 trillion, equal to six countries the size of Russia (or Spain or Canada).
  • With 47% of the population now living in cities, eight Chinese cities have a population of more than 10m, and 93 have more than 5m. By comparison, in the US only New York City has a population of more than 5m.
  • Beijing, China’s Washington DC, is also China’s Silicon Valley. Its Zhongguancun area saw 23 high-tech IPOs in 2009, against just one for Silicon Valley. There have been another 35 IPOs so far in 2010.
  • Kunshan, one of 2,000 county-level cities, produces more than half of the world’s notebook PCs, or 85m units – and yet IT manufacturing is not even its top-ranked industry.
  • Suzhou, one of 280 prefecture-level cities, has a per capita GDP which is 70% and 46% higher than Beijing and Shanghai, respectively.
  • Jiangsu, a province little known to outsiders, is poised to overtake the much better-known southern province of Guangdong to become China’s largest provincial economy as early as 2012.
  • The 1.5m inhabitants of Erdos, a city rich in natural resources in the otherwise poor western part of the country, will have a higher GDP per capita than Hong Kong in three years time.
  • Among the 1m villages – the lowest unit in the administrative chain – there are some extraordinary contrasts, for example, between the fiercely-capitalist Huaxi, where every ex-farmer is a millionaire, and the communist Nanjie, where collective interests still prevail over those of individuals.

What are the report's implications in a nutshell:

What does it mean for China’s future when local officials have widespread powers over land sales, infrastructure, commercial and residential property construction, natural resource exploration and foreign direct investment?

First, sizzling growth should continue for at least another five years. Local governments have managed to beat Beijing’s growth targets by a few percentage points every year since 1980. Published data for the coming 12th Five-Year Plan from 2011 to 2015 show most provinces remain ambitious in their targets.

Second, these growth ambitions have increased inter-regional competition. Provinces have far more ambitious plans for the expansion of their rail networks and clean energy activities than those stipulated by national targets. In some cases, the local target is double the national one. One reason for this is that to get promoted in China, you have to outperform your peers.

The danger, however, is that over-investment leads to overcapacity. For example, Kunshan’s strong position in IT is being challenged by the municipality of Chongqing. Together they could soon supply 80 per cent of the world’s notebook PCs – raising concentration risks as well as oversupply concerns.

Third, overcapacity may lead to bad credits. For example, a recent report submitted by the China Academy of Science to the State Council raised concerns about unsustainable debt levels and the risk of loss-making activities. It noted that the 1,000km Wuhan to Guangzhou bullet train, which started operating earlier this year, was running at less than half its capacity and would never make enough money to pay off the loans used to finance it.

Fourth, policies at the centre risk being less effective if they are quietly resisted by local authorities. Beijing launched its fierce crackdown on property speculation in April – and yet eight months on, not only have prices barely moved downwards, volumes actually rose again in September and October. Not a single city has rolled out the much expected property tax. Vested interests have also blunted Beijing’s repeated calls for consolidation in the country’s iron and steel industry.

All this and much more inside:

Inside the growth engine: A guide to China’s regions, provinces and cities


h/t Paolo


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