Interactive Investor

China vs America: Can the superpowers work together?

15th October 2012 12:42

Darshini Shah from interactive investor

In the second part of our look at the world's established and up-and-coming superpowers, Interactive Investor asks if China's rise implies America's decline, and whether the two countries can work together to promote global growth.

For part one, read: China vs America: When will the Chinese economy take top spot?

Nigel Green, chief executive of independent financial adviser deVere Group, suggests that human economic progress should not be a zero-sum game.

China's industrialisation, for example, has resulted in a huge increase in raw materials such as iron ore and copper, benefiting countries reliant on the export of natural resources such as Australia, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Africa.

The Asian powerhouse's doubling of world industrial production has led to the "China price" - making the cost of manufactured goods much more easily affordable to everyone, and thereby greatly increasing the global standard of living. While critics may say that this process negatively impacts those industries and countries directly competing with China, others say a little bit of competition is always healthy.

Expanding consumer market

And as ordinary Chinese grow wealthier, they act as a large consumer market as well. Currently number three behind the USA and Japan, BGI Consulting predicts China will be the world's second-largest consumer market by 2015. China has also become the third-largest market for American exports, up 53% from 2007.

It thus comes as no surprise that from a Starbucks on every corner to being Apple's second-largest consumer, Western companies are being drawn to China like moths to a flame. McDonald's, which had about 1,100 outlets in 2010, expects to grow to a total of 2,000 stores by 2013. Additionally, the Chinese fixation with luxury goods has led to a rapid expansion in British firms Burberry and Mulberry.

"With well-run companies like Apple and Microsoft, which offer products the world wants to buy, the US is still dominating the global business in many respects," points out Green, but warns that America "needs to keep producing ultra-successful organisations like these if it is to counteract the rise of China".

On the other hand, Christopher Clarke, hedge fund manager at Lawrence Clarke Investment Management, is of the view that global growth has to be a zero-sum game.

"The reason is very simply that if all of these countries grew at between 3% and 5% annually, the world wouldn't exist in 20 years' time - there aren't enough global resources and the planet couldn't take the strain (carbon emissions, etc).

"Clearly many will waffle on about renewable energies and new technologies - but these aren't being implemented quickly enough and even if they were you still have the global resources issues."

He added: "Don't forget also that whilst nobody was looking in 2009-2011, China quietly bought many of the world's resources which the West sold off to finance yet more debt."

This is why he believes that China and America cannot work together to promote global growth.

"All [the US] understands is stimulus and money printing - this is what got the world in trouble in the first place. China is not at the stage of its industrialisation to be able to do what it needs to do promote global economic growth and probably realises that it would only harm its own economy if it were forced to work in partnership with the USA," he states.


In tandem with this is US presidential candidate Mitt Romney's China-bashing strategy.

Not only has he promised to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, his website runs a section called "Confront China Directly". He has stated that he will force China to play by international rules ranging from human rights to manufacturing and trading.

"If you're not willing to stand up to China, you'll get run over by China," he has declared.

Four years ago, President Obama was just as vocal as Romney is now, but this seems to have died down, a sensible move, some analysts have said. Picking a fight with an important trading partner and the biggest holder of American public debt just doesn't seem like a clever move.

However, Green stresses that China and America must work together to promote global growth, as they are likely to be the two main beneficiaries.

"As the leading economic powers, America and China need to encourage global policies to promote business development ideas and investment in small firms - the life-blood of most economies around the world," says Green.

Still, he cautions: "Policymakers in the US should bear in mind that if America keeps importing more than it exports, if its consumption is higher than its production, and if it keeps running huge trade deficits and outsourcing goods, services - and therefore jobs and wealth - to China, it is, essentially, sending out its own growth to the pretender to its superpower throne."