Chinese policy makers seem unwilling to accept that downturns are perfectly normal even for economic superpowers, as the U.S. has often demonstrated. Over the past century the U.S. economy experienced a dozen recessions and a Great Depression even as it remained the world’s leading economy. But Beijing has little tolerance for business cycles and is now reviving efforts to stimulate sectors that it had otherwise wanted to see fade in importance, from property to infrastructure to exports. Given the over-investment in these areas and the cloud of debt that still hangs over the Chinese economy, these efforts are unlikely to lead to a sustained upturn. While China reported that its GDP grew exactly in line with its growth target of 7% in the first and second quarters this year, all other independent data, from electricity production to car sales, indicate the economy is growing closer to 5%.
That leaves the global economy perilously close to recession territory. In the first half of 2015, global economic output expanded by barely 2%, making it the weakest two-quarter period since the expansion began in mid-2009. Industrial production and world trade growth were flat, developments that in the past have corresponded with global recessions.
Developing countries are hardest hit by the China slowdown. Many are suppliers to China’s manufacturing industries, where growth has virtually stalled. Outside of China, overall growth in the emerging world has fallen below 2%, implying that for the first time since the crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s the developing countries are growing more slowly than the developed world. One of the least-effected economies is America’s, because its trade and financial links to China are limited compared with most other countries.