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Discuss whether the undervalued yuan (RMB) is the only cause of China’s rising inflation and trade surplus with the US. [25] (Rephrased Economics Question)


In recent years, it has been argued that the undervalued renminbi (RMB / yuan) is the major cause of China’s burgeoning inflation and massive trade surplus vis-à-vis developed countries, especially the USA. From 2007-21012, economists worldwide argued that China should revalue the yuan.

Discuss whether “the undervalued yuan” is the only cause of China’s rising inflation and huge trade surplus with the USA. [25]

Introduction

China has often been accused by the West of using her fixed exchange rate to maintain an “undervalued yuan”, meaning that her currency (yuan, renminbi, RMB) is cheaper than it otherwise should be in a floating exchange rate, relative to other currencies. 

This Economics paper argues that having an undervalued currency encourages demand for Chinese exports, which could arguably lead to demand-pull inflation, whilst concomitantly causing imported inflation for China, as its imports from its trading partners are relatively more expensive. Hence, it can be strongly argued that China’s inflationary woes indeed stem in part from an undervalued yuan, and, to a large extent, the high demand for low-priced Chinese exports is responsible for China’s huge trade surplus.

Inflation

First and foremost, it has to be argued that China’s inflationary woes stem partly from the undervalued RMB. With a relatively undervalued RMB, Chinese goods appear cheaper relative to other countries’ goods, and this causes an increase in the demand for Chinese exports, in contradistinction to other countries’ domestically produced goods or even goods from other exporting countries. This is because with increased demand for Chinese exports, (X-M) increases, and since AD = C + I + G + (X-M), there arises demand-pull inflation. Inflation is defined as a persistent and sustained increase in the general price level, and demand-pull inflation is caused by rapid and persistent increases in AD.

On the cost-push side, the undervalued yuan may have made imported inflation a real possibility and thus may have pushed up the AS curve. This is because if China imports inputs or factors of production, especially and furthermore so if those natural resources are then used as inputs to produce exports, then this might cause inflation in China if these inputs rise in price. Given that the cheaper yuan makes other countries’ currencies look more expensive, this is a real possibility.

Inflation in China, on the other hand, is also caused by the rapid growth they experienced in recent times. There has been rising domestic consumption due to the rapidly expanding middle classes in China, and that would have raised C. At the same time, rising optimism about business prospects have led firms to undertake investments, thus raising I as well. Since AD = C + I + G + (X-M), it is clear that these increase AD. Hence, AD also shifts to the right, thus causing demand-pull inflation due to rapid domestic Chinese economic growth, which is not solely related to growth in exports.

Trade Surpluses

Secondly, the “undervalued yuan” can be blamed for the mounting trade surplus China has with its trading partners, predominantly America, since American consumers’ high demand for cheap Chinese goods caused the Chinese to sell massive amounts of goods to Americans. As China uses a fixed exchange rate regime, this balance of trade disequilibrium is not automatically corrected, unlike under a freely floating exchange rate regime. Concomitantly, prices of imports remain relatively high, from the Chinese perspective, since the yuan was kept low. This leads in theory to import expenditure being low, whilst export expenditure is high. Hence, the low value of the Chinese yuan will continue to encourage other countries to import cheap Chinese goods, and thus incur a growing trade deficit; on the other hand, China will, theoretically, continue to accumulate surpluses given the low value of the yuan. Hence, it seems that the criticisms of the undervalued yuan seem justified here.

Other Countries’ Declining Comparative Advantage

Nonetheless, the “undervalued yuan” cannot be the only cause of this huge trade surplus; America’s slowly declining comparative advantage, where comparative advantage refers to the relatively lower opportunity cost of a country in producing a good relative to other trading countries, in manufacturing has led to weakening US exports, whilst, on the other hand, it might be possible to argue that China has developed a new, dynamic comparative advantage in manufacturing, especially cheap and lower-end products. For instance, the American steel industry has been too reliant on protectionism for many years, and this has contributed to her mounting trade deficit, because it has become less export competitive, while the Chinese improved consistently over recent years. Hence, perhaps the trade surpluses are due to American weaknesses and Chinese strengths.

Conclusion

Thus, while it can be strongly argued that the “undervalued yuan” does indeed have a part to play in China’s rising inflation and huge trade surpluses, it cannot be considered the only cause of these problems, and China’s increasing prosperity, especially for the middle classes, her rising economic growth, and the falling productivity and comparative advantage of the developed nations who are her trade partners are realistic and relevant alternative explanations for the same phenomena. 


JC Economics Essays: Tutor's Comments - This Economics essay was actually written under examination conditions by a Chinese student. First, it has to be praised: the English is very well written and fluent, and the student has clearly got a very good understanding of the Chinese economy and a good knowledge of international economic events. Secondly, it has to be said that the quantity and quality of this Economics essay far exceed what I would have expected as an Economics tutor, because this was written under examination conditions and by someone whose native language is not English. This just goes to show that if one puts one heart into doing something, and tries one's best - one can achieve many great things in life. As an Economics tutor, seeing such work and effort in my students' Economics essays is one of the joys of teaching. If you were to write this essay, how would you approach it? Would the approach be similar or different? Thanks for reading and cheers. 

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