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On the Right Road
An researcher speaks about China's economic restructuring and the world economy
 NO. 48 NOVEMBER 30, 2017
Chinese and Russian workers examine product quality in a factory of China's Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. Ltd. in Kaluga, Russia, on August 18 (XINHUA)

Kiyoyuki Seguchi, research director of the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Japan, has studied the economics of China, the United States and Japan for years. He has visited China at least once every quarter over the past eight years. During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, Seguchi spoke about China's economic restructuring and the world economy in an interview with People's China, a Beijing-based monthly publication in Japanese. He stressed that China needs powerful leadership to push forward reform and that the world should pursue shared and win-win development.

People's China: Last year, when talking about China's supply-side structural reform, you said the Chinese Government has the capability to ensure healthy performance of the economy and insisted that it is unnecessary to worry about the country's economic growth. As you expected, the Chinese economy maintains a strong uptrend this year. What makes you so confident in the Chinese economy?

Kiyoyuki Seguchi: From last year to the present, China's economy has undergone three major changes. First, exports keep recovering, which has to do with the recovery of the world economy. As China's exports to Europe, the United States and Japan are climbing, its foreign trade has once again realized growth after almost two years.

Second, private investment has regained momentum. By the end of last year, sluggish private investment had become a far more alarming problem than stagnant foreign trade. In the past, private investment always grew faster than gross domestic investment. However, in 2015 and 2016, it experienced a dramatic slowdown and showed a trend of continued deceleration. Consequently, the Chinese Government has unveiled a series of policies to tackle the problem, such as admitting private capital into public infrastructure, and state-owned commercial banks have increased credit support for private enterprises. In addition, China has intensified efforts to address overcapacity, which shores up enterprise profits and fuels the recovery of private investment.

Third, good results have been achieved by implementing supply-side reform policies to cut overcapacity and reduce inventories. As real estate stock has continued to decline in 2017, investment in property will pick up in the near future.

On October 10, the IMF ratcheted up its forecast for China's economic growth in 2017 for the fourth time to 6.8 percent.

In conclusion, all these changes should be attributed to the implementation of policies catering to a new normal in China's economic development since 2012, though the concept of "new normal" was not officially adopted until mid-2014. In this stage, China sees a transformation from high-speed to high-quality growth.

In the past five years, the Chinese Government has released more than 1,500 economic policies and measures. In your view, which are the most successful? Which are the most difficult to carry out?

As I just mentioned, cutting overcapacity and excess inventories are the ones most successfully carried out. And, I would summarize the most difficult tasks as the following three aspects.

First, income redistribution remains challenging. At present, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, which has drawn the attention of the Chinese Government. To narrow the gap, authorities should push forward tax reforms in four ways. The excess progressive tax rate for individual income should be reformulated so that the levies on high-income people will be increased. Inheritance tax should be established, with its highest rate pegged at 50-60 percent. To go with inheritance tax, donation tax should also be launched at the same rate. Last, the scope and rates of real estate tax should be expanded and raised.

Second, it's an arduous task to push forward reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). At the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC in November 2013, an array of reform measures were announced, such as speeding up market-oriented restructuring of SOEs, which won appreciation worldwide. In the near future, allowing private capital to invest in SOEs will be an essential step in the reform.

Third, it's difficult to stabilize the fiscal revenue of local governments. Currently, most local governments in China depend heavily on revenues from land sales, which may create economic bubbles. To reverse the trend, efforts should be made to introduce real estate tax, or the Central Government should allocate tax revenues or give financial aid to local governments just as the Japanese Government does. The details can be worked out according to China's particular conditions.

A container containing exported cargo is loaded onto a truck in Jinjiang Land Port in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, on July 12 (XINHUA)

In Japan, some voices call into question the ongoing SOE reform in China, saying it goes against the trend of the times. What's your opinion?

I don't agree with them. The merger of two large steel makers, Baosteel Group in Shanghai and Wuhan Iron and Steel Group in central China's Hubei Province, is a good example. The move targeted phasing out backward production capacity. To reach the same end, the government could have let Wuhan Iron and Steel Group go bankrupt. But with this approach, the economy in Wuhan and the whole of central China would be adversely affected. To realize a soft landing, the government chose to merge the two giant enterprises. Such branch-and-root reform needs time to generate results, and this case can serve as a reference when combining and consolidating other SOEs.

Now, most SOEs operate at very low profit levels, and if the number of them keeps climbing, China's economic growth will undoubtedly be dragged down. To avoid that, the scale of these under-performing enterprises needs to be reduced. The merger of Wuhan Iron and Steel and Baosteel Group gave birth to Baowu Steel Group, which has maintained advanced production capacity and eliminated overlapping and redundant activities.

What do you think about the 19th CPC National Congress, and what are your concerns?

In terms of China's internal affairs, I focus on further promotion of the ongoing reforms. In any country, vested interest groups are always the largest stumbling block on the path of reform. Only leaders with strong power can push through reform despite all kinds of obstructions from entrenched interests.

In terms of foreign affairs, I most care about Sino-Japanese relations and hope they will have new vitality.

Given that world economy has been trapped in stagnation in recent years, China has presented its own solution featuring shared and win-win development. Will this enable a breakthrough of the current bottleneck?

Accompanying the stagnancy and sluggishness of global economic growth are the decline of United States' leading role and the bad performance of the European economy. The United States is receding from its role as a leader and contributor in many aspects, for example, free trade and climate change, while the European economy has been struggling with great uncertainties, which adds to the already worrisome global situation.

The mire faced by the United States is to some extent a result of its poor economic management and widening rich-poor gap. The sovereign debt crisis and Brexit testify to awful economic governance in Europe. However, Germany failed to lend a hand, the U.S. chose to stand by, and Asia found it too far to come to the rescue. In such a context, the sharing and win-win concept put forward by China is most likely to be a way out.

I hope China will stick to the concept in both political and economic terms and play a leading role. For the time being, I also expect the Sino-Japanese relationship will be further strengthened, and the Asian economy will be revitalized by joint efforts from the two nations as well as South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Beyond that, Japan should enhance cooperation with China in building the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and developing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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