China grapples with risk of economic hard landing

SHANGHAI: When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sought to reassure business leaders that the world s second-largest economy can avoid a hard landing, he acknowledged mounting fears of exactly that, and analysts say the adjustment to slower growth will be painful.


Just six months ago Li set a 2015 economic growth target of “around seven percent”, confidently telling lawmakers that the economy was adjusting to a “new normal”.

But he scrambled to reassure a World Economic Forum meeting on Thursday that China was not heading for a disorderly slump which would shake the global economy.

“If there are signs the economy is sliding out of the proper range we have adequate capability to deal with the situation,” he said. “The Chinese economy will not head for a hard landing.”

Still, gloomy perceptions of China are growing and the signs are troubling: a surprise currency devaluation, persistently weak manufacturing, and rising debt defaults, with a share price collapse to boot.

Government meddling in the stock and currency markets, including police investigations, as well as falling back on pump-priming to support the flagging economy, have raised questions about the leadership s management and commitment to reforms, analysts say.

China last Monday revised downward its 2014 economic growth figure to 7.3 percent, the weakest in 24 years. In both the first and second quarter this year, growth remained stuck at 7.0 percent, slower than last year.

“Nothing is working for Chinese leaders these days. They can slow the rate of descent, but they can t change the downward direction of their economy,” Gordon Chang, an author and independent commentator on China, told AFP.

“At this moment, China s technocrats look incompetent, clueless and oblivious.”

The authorities next steps will be crucial, analysts say.

“The risk for a hard landing has always been there. Whether or not China will avoid it will depend on the policy reserves the government uses,” Zhang Jun, an economics professor at Shanghai s Fudan University, told AFP, citing reducing local government and corporate debt as examples.

“There s still space for the government to turn the situation around,” he said.