Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree

How China's shifting industries are reshaping its long-term growth model and what we can learn from this

Francisco Betti

Editor's note: Francisco Betti is the head of global industries and a member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum (WEF). The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

A view of the Bund in Shanghai, China. /CFP
A view of the Bund in Shanghai, China. /CFP

A view of the Bund in Shanghai, China. /CFP

China's current economic story is one of transition rather than decline. The factors that have previously driven its high GDP growth are receding, such as real estate development and high export volumes, and are increasingly being replaced with advanced technological and manufacturing strategies and techniques.

In a distinct move away from high-speed growth and economic volume, China's leadership is intent on enhancing the quality and sustainability of economic development and improving the well-being of the people. Focusing on specific sectors provides the space for strategic resource allocation and accelerated development of key industries, all reflecting this shift.

China is moving towards the cutting edge, and in certain areas, such as the ownership and supply of critical materials, it is already leading the pack. There is a growing shift from an economic model favoring heavy investment in physical capital and real estate towards a nimbler growth focused on high-quality products and services. If the authorities get this transition right, China's industries will power a vibrant domestic economy and play an important fiscal role globally in the coming decades.

In some respects, this builds on its earlier narrative. For years, economists debated when – not if – China would outpace the U.S. economy as it consistently returned growth rates of between 8 percent and 10 percent. Recent figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that China is in the position of contributing more to global GDP growth than any other economy, including the combined economies of the Group of Seven (G-7), in the next five years.

This growth, however, will depend on pursuing a package of pro-market reforms. If China gets this right, the IMF has said that its economy could grow faster still, amounting to a 20 percent expansion of the real economy – adding $3.5 trillion – in the next 15 years.

Buildings in Yuhua district, Changsha, Hunan Province, China. /CFP
Buildings in Yuhua district, Changsha, Hunan Province, China. /CFP

Buildings in Yuhua district, Changsha, Hunan Province, China. /CFP

More positively, China has a strong track record of economic management and evolution. It is only partway along the path of transforming the economy, and the structural issues it currently faces are not unique. It has a range of policy levers and resources available to address specific problems. The authorities are changing policy but looking at their focus on particular industries provides an idea of where the Chinese economy is going and its wider potential.

One of the most notable changes is China's foreign trade structure, which indicates an industrial upgrade. This is exemplified in its exports of the "new three" pillars – focusing on electric vehicles, lithium batteries and photovoltaic modules. Uncertainty aside, it is clear that China's competitive advantage is steadily moving up the industrial chain, with intermediate and capital goods making up an increasing share of its exports.

There are other important markers of its transformation. China's focus on research and development is evidenced by the fact that it is the world's largest patent filer. It has the second-largest number of technology unicorns – 369 as of April – with an average value of $3.8 billion.

When it comes to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Lighthouse Network – a community of manufacturers demonstrating leadership in using advanced technologies to transform factories, value chains and business models – China is the country with the largest concentration of manufacturing lighthouses. There are more than 150 lighthouses in the network, more than 40 percent of which are based in China, all of which have demonstrated high levels of productivity and the adoption of the most advanced sustainability practices.

During a period where politics is polarized, our platforms play a pivotal role. Through the WEF's 22 global industry communities, 10 centers and events such as the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, all international stakeholders can engage in a neutral space. This helps foster dialogue and cooperation, which is invaluable in these fractured geopolitical times.

By shining a light on China's economy at the industry level, stakeholders better gain a holistic, impartial overview of the current state of China's economy and its longer-term outlook. This provides the necessary detail to make informed investment strategies and resource allocation decisions.

The growth and transformation of China's economy are subtle but powerful. China's economic transition is not going away and will become ever more relevant to international business, politics and of course, the global economy itself, well into the 21st century. 

Search Trends