Die "zwei Gesichter" Chinas beleuchet heute die New York Times: Few business executives watch the growth of the Chinese economy as closely as Michael R. P. Smith, the chief executive of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Yet even Mr. Smith was startled when his staff recently projected that in 2034, bank assets in China would surpass those in the United States. "When I saw that, I said, 'That can't be right,' and I went back to the economics guys," who confirmed the projection, Mr. Smith recalled. Much the same surprise is cropping up in industry after industry and in country after country. From steel to oil to cars to credit cards, China is poised to become the world's biggest producer and market for many goods and services. Along the way, China has come to terrify many foreign business executives and attract others - and sometimes both at the same time, depending on whether they see the country as a competitor, a cheap source of supply, a market, or all three. Companies across many industries are facing enormous pressure to match prices that are available in China or lose their customers. That can mean deep price cuts of 25 to 50 percent, leading in some cases to job losses, cutbacks and even closings. At the same time, American and European companies are taking advantage of China's vast and inexpensive labor force by moving some of their operations there - and by offering their products to a country whose role as a consumer continues to grow. ... Like Japan from the 1950's through the 1980's, China has shown that a country can sustain high growth rates for many years by combining hard work with a closed financial system that channels very high household savings into countless industrial projects and other ventures selected partly by government bureaucrats. Japan's stagnation since the early 1990's suggests that such policies may have limitations. Predicting when China might hit such a wall has become something of a cottage industry. This has been particularly true in the last year, as Beijing has imposed fairly strict controls on bank lending. The government has raised bank reserve requirements three times and increased the benchmark interest rates for bank loans and deposits once, in response to evidence that the economy may be overheating. Climbing prices for industrial commodities like steel, bid up around the world mainly because of China's rapid growth, have alarmed manufacturers across China. Xin Yumei, an export manager at Yangquan Metals and Minerals in China's north central Shanxi Province, said the price of steel for the company's scissors and pocketknives had jumped close to 20 percent in the last year. "The price is going up, and I have to raise our prices soon," she said.


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