China’s economy has strongly rebounded from the deep dive following the COVID-19 outbreak and has returned to its gradually slowing path. The rebalancing from investment to consumption, from manufacturing to services, and from rural to urban migration have all been set back by the pandemic, but need to restart to make growth sustainable and inclusive. The investment-driven recovery kept investment efﬁciency low, indicating continued capital misallocation. Corporate debt climbed to pre-pandemic highs: borrowing has been fuelled by crisis-related and more long-standing factors, including implicit guarantees for state-owned enterprises and other public entities. Slowing growth and continuing tax cuts will imply lower ﬁscal resources to make growth more inclusive, thus stable revenue sources from personal income taxes and dividends from state-owned enterprises are needed. Although the population is aging rapidly, China can still reap the “reform dividend” with measures to keep up the sustained growth of productivity. Reforms that enhance competition in product markets are among those that can potentially bring about signiﬁcant productivity gains.
The pandemic highlighted weaknesses in the health and social security systems and pushed many households and firms to the brink of bankruptcy. It further widened inequalities between: (i) central provinces and the coast; (ii) already indebted poor households and wealthier ones and (iii) the private sector, with limited access to infrastructure contracts and hardly hit by slackened demand, and the state-owned sector. Such divides need to be addressed to make growth inclusive and sustainable.
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2021 Structural Reform Priorities