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When China sneezes does the rest of the world catch a cold?

November 2, 2010

China boasts the worlds largest, fastest growing markets for most commodities worldwide, from steel to build skyscrapers and highways to mobile phones, from diamonds to education, from rare earths to super trains, the middle kingdom is a vital supply chain in all industries, integral to corporate budgets, unavoidable in corporate boardrooms and feverishly discussed internationally. China’s astronomical ascent over the last 30 years has left an indelible imprint – whether social, economic or political on all nations.  Accounting for almost a fifth of world growth this year, according to the IMF; at purchasing-power parity, of  just over a quarter, China’s impact on global affairs, the way the world does business and the way we work with each other has all altered.

However, when China sneezes the rest of the world might shiver, but it doesn’t yet catch a cold. This is because, while China might export everything imaginable today, the nation doesn’t import comparatively as much from other countries. Managing to control its trade imbalance with nations, China makes sure that its exports far outweigh its dependability on other nations for goods or services.

The largest export market China, in 2009 accounted for 12.5 percent of Brazilian exports, South African exports – 10.3 percent, Japanese exports 18.9 percent and Australian exports 21.8 percent. But exports are only one component of GDP. In most economies of any size, domestic spending matters more. Thus exports to China are only 3.4 percent of GDP in Australia, 2.2 percent in Japan, 2 percent in South Africa and 1.2 percent in Brazil (see map).

Further, the multiplier effect has worked in favor of China too, a burgeoning export market has created job opportunities from shop floors to online trade portals, the logistics market has prospered significantly and manufacturing has led to gains in property markets and raw materials.

Besides trade, China has also curbed its dependability on other nations by wisely spreading its capital risks worldwide. Although investing in US treasury bonds and European debt,  China has also prudently invested in heavily in Asia, and more so in neighbors it is well aligned with. China’s help comes in many ways, sometimes by way of poverty alleviation, other times in infrastructure and energy projects – signalling a long term association.

While China has shown that its economy can grow even when America’s shrinks, and that it has the power to determine global trade swings, analysts say that this does not mean it can substitute for it. The middle kingdom will have to sustain its economic might over a much longer period of time to earn the respect of giving the world a cold when it sneezes.

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