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China's Local Debt Problem Needs Political, not Economic Solution

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

BEIJING -- Since 2009, China's credit-fueled economic stimulus plan has dramatically increased overall indebtedness and created new risks to long-term headline growth. Among the most acute of these is mounting local government debt, which has tripled as a percentage of GDP since 2008 amid a carnival of inefficient spending. Clearing up the mess has emerged as a key challenge for maintaining strong economic growth. However, the solution is as much political as economic and requires a fundamental rebalancing of the power relations between central and local government.

Compared to most developed economies, China's national debt levels remain low at around 70 percent of its annual GDP. This figure is rising rapidly, roughly doubling since 2007 and on course to reach 100 percent as early as 2013. However, while rising overall indebtedness is a cause for concern, if current growth rates are sustained, the expansion of lending per se should be manageable. ...

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