IMF chief says China faces economic ‘fork in the road’

Kristalina Georgiva says a more consumer-centred policy mix could add trillions to China's economy.

Kristalina Georgiva says a more consumer-centred policy mix could add trillions to China's economy. Photo: AFP/Getty

China needs to “reinvent itself” with economic policies to speed resolution of its property market crisis and boost domestic consumption and productivity, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director Kristalina Georgieva says.

“China faces a fork in the road – rely on the policies that have worked in the past, or reinvent itself for a new era of high-quality growth,” Georgieva said in remarks to a meeting of senior Chinese government officials and executives from global companies.

Chinese officials who spoke at the opening of the China Development Forum expressed confidence that China would hit its economic targets, including growth of about five per cent this year.

The officials pledged further support for companies in strategically important sectors – an area Chinese President Xi Jinping has dubbed “new productive forces”.


But those commitments appeared to stop far short of the more sweeping changes urged by the IMF.

Georgieva said an analysis by the IMF showed a more consumer-centred policy mix could add $US3.5 trillion ($5.4 trillion) to China’s economy across the next 15 years.

If achieved, that boost would be equivalent to adding output equivalent to more than twice the size of South Korea’s economy.

To do that, China would need to take “decisive” steps to complete unfinished housing stranded by bankrupt developers and to reduce risks from local government debt, the IMF chief said.

“A key feature of high-quality growth will need to be higher reliance on domestic consumption,” said Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist.

“Doing so depends on boosting the spending power of individuals and families.”

Other economists have also urged a new growth model for China to address structural imbalances from weak household spending to lower returns on investment.

But the IMF remarks were significant, coming at the outset of a two-day meeting during which Beijing is looking to shore up foreign investor confidence and push the message that it is open for business.

Foreign investment flows into China shrank almost 20 per cent in the first two months of the year from a year earlier, data released on Friday showed

Officials have been stepping up efforts to attract investors at a time when many companies have been looking to “de-risk” supply chains and operations away from China.

In 2023, foreign direct investment into China contracted by eight per cent, reflecting a shaky economic recovery and tensions with the United States and its allies on a range of issues.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, the highest-profile executive at the Beijing event, told China state broadcaster CGTN he had an “outstanding” meeting with China’s Premier Li Qiang.

“I think China is really opening up, and I’m really happy to be here,” Cook told a CGTN interviewer on the sidelines of the meeting.

He later said Apple’s China-based suppliers had helped deliver gains in more sustainable manufacturing, including lowering water use and recycling metals such as aluminum and cobalt.

More than 100 overseas executives and investors were attending the China Development Forum and a series of smaller closed-door sessions with Chinese officials on Friday and Saturday.

The companies represented included Starbucks, Mercedes-Benz, Aramco, BHP and AMD.

China’s cabinet has unveiled some new steps intended to win investment, including a promise of expanded market access and pilot programs to encourage investment in science and technology.

On Sunday, Li said China’s previously announced $US140-billion ($215 billion) plan to issue ultra-long bonds would create a fund to spur investment and stabilise growth.

Other officials highlighted Xi’s commitment to drive investment in “new productive forces” – industries that officials have said include networked electric vehicles, spaceflight and cutting-edge drug development.


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