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Will China Stumble? Don’t Bet on It

'Will China Stumble? Don’t Bet on It'
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR Will China Stumble? Don’t Bet on It By STEVEN RATTNER Published: December 2, 2011 HARDLY a day goes by without news of yet another economic problem facing China.Afrothy real estate market. Quickly rising wages. Aweakening manufacturing sector. Tightening lending standards. The list can seem endless and frightening. But after a recent visit to China, I remain staunchly optimistic that it will continue to be the world’s greatest machine for economic expansion. While developed countries bump along with little growth, China’s gross domestic product is expected to increase by 9.2 percent in 2011 and an equally astonishing 8.5 percent next year. The country pulses with energy and success, a caldron of economic ambition larded with understandable self-confidence. Visit the General Motors plant on the outskirts of Shanghai and watch Buicks churned out by steadily moving assembly lines almost indistinguishable from those in plants in Michigan. That shouldn’t surprise, as G.M. strives for uniformity across its Chinese facilities. Perhaps more startling is that G.M. achieves American levels of productivity, quality and worker safety — with pay that is a small fraction of levels in the United States. This illustrates China’s great strength: its ability to relentlessly grind down costs by combining high labor efficiency with wages that remain extraordinarily low. At Foxconn’s largest plant, in Shenzhen, 420,000 Chinese earning about $188 per month assemble electronic components for megacustomers likeApple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Often criticized for just being a nation of “assemblers,” China has been increasing the value it adds to exports as more components are produced there. G.M., for example, uses 350 local suppliers. China’s economic success is colored by its opaque political system, repressive and riddled with corruption. But the unusual mix of authoritarianism and free enterprise should continue to work because of its ability to deliver rising incomes, satisfying a populace that appears more interested in economic advancement than in democracy. China has a plethora of tasks on its economic to do list, but none are impossibly daunting. Just as in the United States a century ago, jobs are needed for vast numbers of rural migrants moving into cities. Inefficient state-owned companies must be restructured (as they were in recent decades in many European countries). The other evident stresses, like the indisputable property bubble, are manageable and far short of what brought down theAmerican economy. Meanwhile, an opportunity lurks in China’s seeming inability to create innovative products with international identities. In an era of global corporations, a country that reveres brands, especially luxury ones like BMW and Louis Vuitton but also Starbucks and Häagen Dazs, has yet to give birth to its first. Lenovo, one of the best-known Chinese companies, has achieved limited success with its 2005 acquisition of IBM’s personal computer bus
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