China manufactures $16trn debt

Chinese flagChina’s massive manufacturing machine works on minuscule margins. Maybe, wonders David Manners, it would have been better if China had built up the quality of its educational system so that its own clever citizens could create the necessary IP to make more profitable products.

Has the China thing been an illusion? People now say the whole boom has been built on debt, that China’s debt is twice its $8 trillion GDP – i.e. $16 trillion – and that 90% of all investment has come from the government.

And they’re saying that the China government has borrowed the lot.

One just hopes they didn’t borrow it from Lloyds, Barclays and RBS, though in the case of RBS – the perennial sucker of the world banking industry – I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

$16 trillion is about the same as America’s debt but America has twice the GDP of China and US industry is considerably more profitable than China’s industry.

There had been a sort of general assumption that the money invested by the Chinese came from its massive manufacturing machine.

We all know its massive manufacturing machine works on minuscule margins but, even so, we assumed these minuscule margins added up to huge amounts of wonga which were spent building new cities, airports, roads, railway lines and the rest.

China’s problem, therefore, is that it could be heading for a 1980s-style Japanese collapse in asset values leading to 20 years of economic stagnation.

And that would be bad for the world which, without China’s regular 8-10% GDP growth, would not have grown since Lehman.

China has been increasingly irritated by the amount it has to pay for imported IP and imported ICs to make its high-tech products.

Those $165 Marvell-based hand-sets emerging from Lenovo and Coolpad won’t be making much profit, if any.

That’s why the China government is beating Qualcomm with the anti-trust stick in order to get the San Diego-ites to cough up cheap IP.

It would have been better if China had done things the old-fashioned way – by expanding and building up the quality of its educational system so that its own clever citizens can create the necessary IP to make profitable products.

But it went for growth willy-nilly and created a massive bureaucratic kleptocracy and swathes of unoccupied luxury housing in deserted new towns.

But the nagging worry remains – as with the debt of the West: Who lent all these trillions? Who is the humungeously huge creditor funding all this?

Image: Chinese flag, Beijing, China – Daderot (Wikimedia Commons)

Tags: Barclays, China, china government, Debt, Government, IP, manufacturing, products

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