How China Opened Its Door: The Political Success of the PRC's Foreign Trade and Investment Reforms

By Susan L. Shirk | Go to book overview

Chapter I
Economic Reform without Political Reform

CHINA'S transformation from a virtually closed economy to a major trading nation is a success story that has attracted wide attention. Since introducing its policies to open the economy in 1979, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has increased its exports at an average annual rate of 16.1 percent, and the country is now the tenth largest exporter in the world. Imports also have grown, at more than 15 percent a year. Annual growth rates for China's total trade were more than three times the world rates between 1978 and 1990.1 In 1993, according to Chinese sources, China's foreign trade constituted 38 percent of its gross domestic product, an exceptionally high trade ratio for a country with such a large domestic market.2 This flow of trade represents a huge expansion from the previous trickle of 10 percent in 1978. A major spur to this growth in trade has been the change in policy to welcome foreign investment to China. In 1978 China had no foreign direct investment; by 1993 China had attracted almost $60 billion of foreign in-

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1.
Lardy ( 1994, pp. 30-37); ( 1992b, p. 11).
2.
"Wu Yi Questioned on 'Foreign Trade Law,'" Xinhua News Agency, May 13, 1994, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: China, May 16, 1994, p. 27. (Hereafter FBIS, China.) This figure should be treated skeptically because China's gross domestic product is widely believed to be underestimated, and trade volume is overestimated by including at full value the exports produced from imported inputs. For a good discussion of the difficulty of estimating trade ratios in China, see Lardy ( 1994).

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