But China’s response to its slowdown, which comes ahead of a rare change in power, could also create new tension with the United States, where the presidential campaign is focused on the economy.
China is turning to policies that may benefit its economy at the expense of the United States’. This year, for instance, China has surprised a wide range of observers by allowing its currency to lose value relative to the dollar, which makes its exports cheaper than America’s. And there are prominent calls inside the country for the renminbi to fall further.
“The economic slowdowns and the political circumstances in both countries could lead to trade tensions erupting once again,” said Eswar S. Prasad, an international trade expert at Cornell University.
Driving China’s slowdown are several factors — most notably, the financial crisis and recession in Europe, which is sapping demand for China’s goods. Also contributing is a slow recovery in the United States and a significant decline in residential real estate investment in China.
Exports are critical to China’s economy, accounting for more than a quarter of economic activity, compared with a little more than a tenth in the United States. To maintain overall growth rates, China has hoped to keep exports growing at about 10 percent per year, and for much of this year it has succeeded.
That’s why the news that Chinese exports had dropped so much caused worry on Friday, and it was only one of several troubling signs. Another indicator Friday showed bank lending declining, a signal that businesses and consumers are planning to spend less money, while on Thursday factory production failed to meet expectations. Many expect overall Chinese economic growth to suffer, too.
Chinese leaders are under pressure to take steps to help the economy as a rare change in power looms. This fall, the Communist Party will choose a new general secretary and officials through the government.
“They cannot afford, during a period of political transition and political turmoil, to suggest any loss of economic control,” Prasad said.
China and the United States are the twin engines of global growth, and both need each other to take steps to keep economic activity going.
China has a number of tools at its disposal to stimulate economic growth — some harmful to the United States, others potentially neutral or helpful. China routinely subsidizes companies that locate there, reducing the competitiveness of U.S. businesses. More favorable programs include China’s effort to boost government spending and lower interest rates to increase lending.