This missive comes to you from the departure lounge of Chongqing airport. I've been attending the Chinese Economists Society Annual Conference. These are much like other national economic association meetings, with a mixture of policy panel discussions (this year on things like state-owned enterprise reform, aging, the environment and the One-Belt One-Road initiative), keynote speeches, and a chance for academics to present their work in twenty-minute bursts during concurrent sessions.
There's also lots of gossip.
For me, the most jarring session was on renminbi internationalisation. Shang-Jin Wei, Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank, said all the usual things I've heard before: ie. best to be patient, there are risks if reform is too quick etc. But others argued for swift action. In particular, the incoming president of the Chinese Economist Society, Wing Thye Woo, argued that China had only a small window of opportunity to build an international financial centre before India became a bigger economy than China. If China did not have a financial centre before India's rise, then Mumbai would lay claim to being the financial centre of the Indo-Pacific.
First, I think he vastly overrates the chances of India developing its financial system quickly. But second, in an era when many countries are trying to shrink their financial centres, the benefits of having a large, powerful and unstable industry are not unequivocal. I hope policy makers continue the gradual path to reform they have so far chosen.
Other highlights of the conference included Justin Lin, former chief economist at the World Bank, preaching his characteristically optimistic take on China's future (8% growth as far as the eye can see), and the Mayor of Chongqing, who gave an hour-long talk on Chongqing's economy. The Mayor's talk was notable because it was unscheduled. The moderator told us that the Mayor had recently given a gripping three-hour talk on the topic, and that we were unfortunate not to receive the full treatment.
On a side note, when people talk of over-investment and spare capacity in China, I assure you they do not include the transportation links to, and the international terminal of, Chongqing airport.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark Zastrow.