Opinion & Analysis

Can Chinese growth defy gravity?

Alicia García-Herrero‘s paper discusses China’s growth for the next two decades, identifying the main challenges and factors that could mitigate its deceleration.

Executive summary

  • Chinese growth, astounding since the beginning of the reform era, has slowed in the last decade. We offer a baseline estimate (based on the current trend) of China’s medium-term growth rate, which we project to fall to 2.4 percent by 2035.
  • Several factors create uncertainty around this baseline. China’s rapid aging is already incorporated into our long-term growth scenario, but its impact on growth will depend on how China’s remaining urbanisation process spreads over time, how the shrinking labour supply affects labour productivity and whether the decline in total factor productivity growth, reflecting the lack of reform during the last decade and possibly the rising role of the state, can be reversed.
  • Investment in China, for decades the largest factor in China’s growth, is expected to contribute less to growth given the increasingly low return on assets, particularly on state-led investment. The rapid piling up of public debt is also becoming a heavy burden for the Chinese economy. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have left significant scarring effects, such as structurally high youth unemployment and low investment confidence.
  • On the upside for China, the rise in human capital and research and development expenditure may support innovation and growth, but the magnitude of this effect is uncertain, because it is unclear if higher innovation will translate into higher total factor productivity, and because of the United States’s push to contain China technologically.


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