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China-Trade Policy in the 1980s

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Under the policy of opening up to the outside world, exports, imports, and foreign capital were all assigned a role in promoting economic development. Exports earned foreign currency, which was used to fund domestic development projects and to purchase advanced foreign technology and management expertise. Imports of capital goods and industrial supplies and foreign loans and investment were used to improve the infrastructure in the priority areas of energy, transportation, and telecommunications and to modernize the machine-building and electronics industries. To earn more foreign currency and to conserve foreign exchange reserves, foreign capital was also used to expand production of export commodities, such as textiles, and of import substitutes, such as consumer goods.

China has adopted a variety of measures to promote its foreign economic relations, maximizing the role of imports, exports, and foreign capital in economic development. Foreign trade organizations were reorganized, and control of imports and exports was relaxed or strengthened depending on the balance of trade and the level of foreign exchange reserves. Heavy purchases of foreign plants and equipment resulted in import restraint from 1980 to 1983. Because of the expansion of exports in the mid-1980s, a large foreign reserve surplus, and the decentralized management of foreign trade, imports surged. Huge, uncontrolled purchases of consumer goods led to trade deficits in 1984 and 1985, resulting in the introduction of an import and export licensing system, stricter controls on foreign exchange expenditures, and the devaluation of the yuan in order to reduce the trade deficit and ensure that machinery, equipment, and semifinished goods, rather than consumer goods, were imported. In 1985 China had foreign exchange reserves of US$11.9 billion.

China joined a number of international economic organizations, becoming a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Multi-Fiber Agreement. China became an observer of GATT in 1982 and formally applied to participate as a full member in July 1986. China also reversed its aversion to foreign capital, borrowing money from international lending organizations, foreign governments, and foreign commercial banks and consortia and permitting foreign banks to open branches in China. The Chinese government maintained a good credit rating internationally and did not pile up huge foreign debts like many other communist and developing countries. Between 1979 and 1985, China signed loans totaling US$20.3 billion, US$15.6 billion of which it already had used. Most loans went into infrastructure projects, such as energy and transportation, and funded raw materials imports. The Bank of China, the principal foreign exchange bank, established branches overseas and participated in international financial markets in Eurobonds and loan syndication.

Legal and institutional frameworks to facilitate foreign investment and trade also were created. Laws on taxation, joint ventures, foreign investments, and related areas were promulgated to encourage foreign investment. In 1979 China created four special economic zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou (in Guangdong Province), and Xiamen (in Fujian Province). The special economic zones essentially were export-processing zones designed to attract foreign investment, expand exports, and import technology and expertise. In 1984 fourteen coastal cities were designated "open cities." These too were intended to attract foreign funds and technology. But in 1985 the government decided to concentrate resources on only four of the cities: Dalian, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Tianjin. Although the special economic zones and open cities had the power to grant investment incentives, problems with the red tape, bureaucratic interference, and lack of basic infrastructure resulted in less foreign investment and fewer high- technology projects than initially envisioned.

From 1979 to 1985, China received US$16.2 billion in foreign investment and used US$4.6 billion of that amount. By 1986 China had over 6,200 foreign-funded businesses, including 2,741 joint ventures, 3,381 cooperatively managed businesses, and 151 enterprises with sole foreign investment. Of the joint ventures, 70 percent were in production enterprises (manufacturing or processing) and 30 percent were service industries (primarily hotels or tourism). Hong Kong provided 80 percent of the jointventure partners, the United States 7 percent, and Japan 6 percent.

Data as of July 1987

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