A shared dilemma for Beijing and Beltway policymakers

Aug 21, 2008 | 11:56 AM |

The Chinese economy is overheating. Beijing is trying to slow growth to sustainable levels and ensure a "soft landing" that will underpin its long-term development plans. But the government's twin fixations on maintaining social stability and hosting a successful Olympics delayed any potential crackdown until after the Games end and the world's attention is elsewhere.

Until recently, that just about summed up the conventional wisdom about China's near-term policy path. And while the chances of the government doing anything to jeopardize its "harmonious society" before or during the Olympics were about as likely as Beijing winning a gold medal for its air quality, what happens after the closing ceremony Aug. 24 is less of a sure thing.

In fact, it's looking increasingly likely that the government's main concern is no longer how to slow the economy. China's top brass instead may be focusing on ways to avoid a shuddering halt.

This may seem hard to believe, given some of the numbers coming out of China. Economic growth slowed in the second quarter to 10.1 percent, but that's hardly evidence of a slump. Iron ore demand, steel output and oil imports all continued to increase at double-digit annual rates. And leaving aside the mass clear-out of migrant workers from Beijing ahead of the Olympics, the country's incredible urbanization rate continues apace 1 million or so people are moving from the countryside to the cities each month. In population terms, that's a city the size of Chicago every quarter. ....

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