[photopress:ist2_1313126_child_learning_to_ski.jpg,full,alignright]As I sit in my office on another white-sky Shanghai day (incidentally, I wonder if the sky actually needs to be blue for it to be an official Blue Sky Day, but that’s a subject for another post), a group of very lucky, quite esteemed people at the Aspen Ideas Festival are sitting cross-legged in front a gorgeous vistas in the Colorado Rocky Mountains (as I’m led to believe by the festival’s front page) talking about, among other things, China.
Shanghai resident James Fallows, of the Atlantic Monthly, and one of the event’s co-hosts, has been writing dispatches from the China-themed talks and panel discussions all week. Today, he gives us his musings on a discussion with Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and David Dollar of the World Bank’s Beijing office, the former a presumed China skeptic and the latter a more optimist:
* No one was either all that optimistic or all that pessimistic. Pei’s case for gloom started by assuming that the next “seven to ten years” would still see China on the way up economically. There were enough positive trends underway whose momentum would carry China at least that long, he said. These included: the continuing flow of young, healthy workers from the countryside into the factory zones, the savings surplus, the markets opening up worldwide with increasing global integration. Only after that — starting sometime between 2015 and 2020 — would China start to hit the wall. (By the way, I’m going to have start making predictions for 7-to-10 years out: chances are nobody will remember them when that time comes.) The last word of Pei’s “pessimistic” introductory pitch was that China would not be able to keep growing at 10 per cent per year. It might fall all the way to seven per cent!
Dollar’s more positive case said that the favorable trends would last for probably the next 15 years, but that there were lots of risks in the meantime. In fact, he listed almost all the same perils that Pei did — environmental carnage, a “social deficit” (shortchanging medical care, schools, etc), China’s imbalanced role in the world economy, etc. The main difference is that he thought the Chinese government would be able to deal with them, and had already started to.