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China's dragon awakes

Posted 25/01/2012 by sevans

More than a billion people in Asia welcomed the Year of the Dragon on Monday 23 January. The fifth sign of the zodiac, the dragon is regarded as a symbol of strength, power and good luck. Though, arguably, China has had more than its fair share of luck already. After all, the world’s fastest growing economy has seen eye-watering average growth rates of 10%/year over the past three decades. 

But with the threat of world recession a distinct possibility, as both this week’s International Monetary Fund and the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report in January make clear, then we should all be hopeful that this year’s dragon makes good on its promises. As the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods in the world, China’s economic health and well-being also plays a major part in determining our own economic prosperity around the rest of the world.

Signs thus far, however, are not encouraging. China’s long housing boom is clearly faltering which could portend a damaging slowdown in the construction and related sectors. ‘If they build the same amount (in 2012) as they did last year, which is still a phenomenal rate of construction, then it would take GDP down to 6.6%,’ Patrick Chovanec, an economist at Tsinghua University’s school of economics and management in Beijing, is quoted as saying in an online article for The Economist.

This would trigger a dramatic slowdown from the 9.2% growth rate for China in 2011, according to a report by news agency Reuters – adding that this is without factoring in the effects of falling demand for building materials or a rise in banks’ bad debts.

Looking on the positive side, however, Chinese consumers’ appetite for electronic gadgets shows no signs of diminishing with a report by Bloomberg Businessweek this week that Apple seriously underestimated the ‘staggering’ demand for its latest iPhone4 model. Crowds of disappointed people were reported to have pelted the Apple store in Beijing with eggs in frustration. Meanwhile, a slowdown in the economy – and hence production - could also be good news for the environment since China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Indeed, one newspaper reports that closure of Chinese factories this week to mark the new year celebrations is expected to result in a 40% drop in electricity consumption.


Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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