“What Fallows doesn’t address in China’s vast surplus/savings is the huge and very real current sovereign debts and future mandates that are hidden in this development scheme: overseas resource dependencies demanding investment stakes, future aging costs, current and future enviro costs, future requirements to build out (and up) the poor interior, and so on.
Those are real sovereign liabilities because the people will expect some/much government help in these matters over time to ensure continued development and sustained movement up the product chain (gotta get as rich as possible before getting old).
Having said all that, Fallows’ analysis of the government’s logic is dead on. I suspect that, with all his time spent in China, we’ll see a book that does a big turn in explaining China to America. That will be a huge journalistic endeavor, and most welcome from someone with his considerable narrative talents.
As for the larger strategic question, we owe China a quiet international security order within which to develop, and sufficient partnership so as to obviate too much defense spending on their part. Eventually, Deng’s “grand compromise” of 1992 (PLA supports him on market acceleration in return for money and cover to modernize) must be tempered so that China doesn’t field a military for a war that should never happen and which it could never win. It needs to field a SysAdmin-heavy force that partners with us in mutual dependence: we can’t rule the peace with our Leviathan-heavy force, but they can’t rule war with their Leviathan-lite force either, so we must cooperate in extending and protecting globalization to our mutual advantage.”
“Fallows runs through the details of the “financial balance of terror” between the US and China and concludes that it won’t last long. However, of the reasons he listed for a collapse of the balance, he didn’t include the most likely: that China will need the money to shore up its domestic economy as the US heads into a lengthy and severe recession.
Remember, China hasn’t endured anything other than growth pain for over a decade. Further, the average Chinese citizens hasn’t reaped much from that boom. They don’t have the financial reserves to weather a crisis (and many of those that do will lose their shirts when China’s market bubble tanks). So where will this cash go over the next two years? Not into Blackstones or US Treasuries. Instead, it will be invested domestically. Into jobs and projects to shore up the little bit of legitimacy the Chinese government still has (we see a similar pattern with many of the globe’s marginally legitimate governments, from Saudi Arabia to Russia).
Frankly, I’m not sure that $1.4 trillion (the normative value of which is evaporating with each plunge in the dollar) will be enough to prevent China from disintegrating if this crisis becomes a panic.”
My two cents:
China holds enormous reserves in dollars because their financial strategy – parking surplus cash in Treasury securities – also represents an internal political strategy of deferring acrimonious, major, spending and investment choices that might precipitate division among the elite. China’s leaders are acutely aware of their nation’s deficiencies and historical tendency toward centrifugal, regional, disintegration and keeping the country intact and the state in charge is right up there in terms of priority with sustaining a fantastic rate of GDP growth. The dollar surplus represents an agreeable, strategic, “rainy day fund” consensus choice of the elite and significant changes here will only be in response to pressures or needs that the elite of the CCP can get behind as a whole. Likely, cautious changes but possibly also too little too late.