Asia’s two big beasts are shivering. India’s economy is weaker, but China’s leaders have more to fear…
India pays an economic price for its democracy. Decision-making is cumbersome. And as in China, unrest and even insurgency are widespread.
The Economists (UK)
THE speed with which clouds of economic gloom and even despair have gathered over the global economy has been startling everywhere. But the change has been especially sudden in the world’s two most populous countries: China and India. Until quite recently, the world’s fastest-growing big economies both felt themselves largely immune from the contagion afflicting the rich world. Optimists even hoped that these huge emerging markets might provide the engines that could pull the world out of recession. Now some fear the reverse: that the global downturn is going to drag China and India down with it, bringing massive unemployment to two countries that are, for all their success, still poor—India is home to some two-fifths of the world’s malnourished children.
The pessimism may be overdone. These are still the most dynamic parts of the world economy. But both countries face daunting economic and political difficulties. In India’s case, its newly positive self-image has suffered a double blow: from the economic buffeting, and from the bullets of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai last month. As our special report makes clear, India’s recent self-confidence had two roots. One was a sustained spurt in economic growth to a five-year annual average of 8.8%. The other was the concomitant rise in India’s global stature and influence. No longer, its politicians gloated, was India “hyphenated” with Pakistan as one half of a potential nuclear maelstrom. Rather it had become part of “Chindia”—a fast-growing success story.
The Mumbai attacks, blamed on terrorist groups based in Pakistan and bringing calls for punitive military action, have revived fears of regional conflict. A hyphen has reappeared over India’s western border, just as the scale of the economic setback hitting India is becoming apparent. Exports in October fell by 12% compared with the same month last year; hundreds of small textile firms have gone out of business; even some of the stars of Indian manufacturing of recent years, in the automotive industry, have suspended production. The central bank has revised its estimate of economic growth this year downwards, to 7.5-8%, which is still optimistic. Next year the rate may well fall to 5.5% or less, the lowest since 2002.
Still faster after all these years
If China’s growth rate were to fall to that level, it would be regarded as a disaster at home and abroad. The country is this month celebrating the 30th anniversary of the event seen as marking the launch of its policies of “reform and opening”, since when its economy has grown at an annual average of 9.8%. The event was a meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee at which Deng Xiaoping gained control. Tentatively at first but with greater radicalism in the 1990s, the party dismantled most of the monolithic Maoist edifice—parcelling out collective farmland, sucking in vast amounts of foreign investment and allowing private enterprise to thrive. The anniversary may be a bogus milestone, but it is easy to understand why the party should want to trumpet the achievements of the past 30 years (see article). They have witnessed the most astonishing economic transformation in human history. In a country that is home to one-fifth of humanity some 200m people have been lifted out of poverty.
Yet in China, too, the present downturn is jangling nerves. The country is a statistical haze, but the trade figures for last month—with exports 2% lower than in November 2007 and imports 18% down—were shocking. Power generation, generally a reliable number, fell by 7%. Even though the World Bank and other forecasters still expect China’s GDP to grow by 7.5% in 2009, that is below the 8% level regarded, almost superstitiously, as essential if huge social dislocation is to be avoided. Just this month a senior party researcher gave warning of what he called, in party-speak, “a reactive situation of mass-scale social turmoil”. Indeed, demonstrations and protests, always common in China, are proliferating, as laid-off factory-workers join dispossessed farmers, environmental campaigners and victims of police harassment in taking to the streets.
Read the rest:
China Faces Social Unrest As Up To 150 Million Migrants Go Home Without Work