world growth

world growth

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

China's economic growth benefits Japan

China's economic rise has silver lining for Japan

TOKYO — China is on the verge of unseating Japan as the world's number two economy, but student Shi Minfei is one reason why Beijing's rapid growth is not all bad news for its deflation-hit neighbour.

With Japan's consumers keeping a tight hold on their purse strings, leaving the country as reliant as ever on exports, Chinese tourists like Shi are a rare example of good news for the country's long-suffering retailers.

The 20-year-old engineering student from Shanghai said she had splurged about 300,000 yen (3,300 dollars) on clothing, bags, shoes and cosmetics during her visit to Japan.

"I'm going mostly to shopping malls," Shi said as she hopped aboard a tour bus in downtown Tokyo, adding that the Japanese capital still has an edge over Shanghai when it comes to splashing cash.

Another visitor, a 42-year-old housewife from Beijing, said she had spent 200,000 yen on "Gundam" combat robot toys for her 12-year-old son, out of a shopping budget for the trip of up to 500,000 yen.

It is a welcome boost for a Japanese economy that has suffered two decades of malaise after its stock market and real estate bubble burst in the early 1990s, ushering in years of deflation and sluggish economic growth.

Japan narrowly retained its title as the world's number two economy in 2009 ahead of China, extending a recovery from a brutal recession with a robust fourth-quarter performance, data showed Monday.

But surging China came close to unseating its neighbour from the position it has held for more than 40 years, after the Japanese economy contracted at the fastest pace on record last year, battered by a plunge in exports.

Average income per person in urban China was less than 3,000 dollars in 2009, still a far cry from nearly 48,000 dollars for a Japanese salaried worker, official figures show.

Even if Japan kept its number two rank last year, economists say it is inevitable it will soon be overtaken by China, which has a population of more than 1.3 billion and an economy that grew a blistering 8.7 percent last year.

While its relegation in the global economic rankings would be a blow to Japan's prestige, its economy might be in an even worse state if it were not for the boom in China, now its biggest trading partner and top export market.

With markets in Japan, North America and Europe in the doldrums, Japan's top carmakers and other manufacturers are increasingly relying on emerging economies including China.

Many Japanese manufacturers have opened factories in China, taking advantage of the lower labour costs and faster economic growth there. The flipside is that they face increasing competition from Chinese firms in overseas markets.

"As its population is ageing, we cannot expect Japan's domestic demand to recover," said Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief Japan economist at Credit Suisse.

"Japan has to rely on exports to limit the speed of its economic decline. Japan's outlook would be much darker if it weren't for China," he said.

Japan's government has taken notice and started issuing visas to individual Chinese tourists last July as demand for non-group travel increases.

Foreign visitor numbers to Japan last year plunged 18.7 percent from the previous year -- the fastest decline in nearly four decades -- to 6.79 million due to the global recession, a strong yen and the swine flu scare.

But arrivals from mainland China edged up 0.6 percent to a record one million.

It is no wonder that travel agencies are competing to woo Chinese tourists with sight-seeing trips that include beauty treatment and healthcare.

Nippon Travel Agency is offering a one-week tour for two for about one million yen (11,000 dollars), including stays at upscale hotels and cancer check-ups at a hospital with cutting-edge equipment, a company spokesman said.

Even remote places such as Abashiri in Hokkaido, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north of Tokyo, are seeing an influx of visitors, after the city was chosen as a filming location for a hit movie released in China last year.

And one day Japan's Chinese neighbours may snap up more than its bags, shoes and tourist trinkets.

"The time will come within the coming decade that Chinese companies will buy Japanese companies or that Chinese funds will buy Japanese properties. It could pose a question of whether Japanese can accept it emotionally," said Shirakawa.

1 comment:

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