by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
China’s economic slowdown, which looms far larger in the global economy than ever before, has induced fear that collateral damage to the U.S. could be more serious. But once we look at the ways in which China can affect America, the threat doesn’t seem very great.
The U.S. imports far more goods from China than from any other country—$443.9 billion in the first 11 months of 2015—but if anything, those goods are becoming cheaper as the yuan’s exchange value falls against the dollar.
As for U.S. merchandise exports to China, they ran at $106.1 billion in 2015’s first 11 months, or just 7.6% of total U.S. exports in this period. So if exports to China slip this year, the hit to total exports will be relatively small.
Where China could have a huge impact is through its holdings of U.S. debt. Based on the most recent figures available, China holds $1.3 trillion of this, making it the Treasury’s single largest creditor. But the last thing it’s likely to do now is dump these holdings. That would hammer the exchange value of the greenback, and China’s sales of goods in the world market depend on a strong dollar.
Finally, a weaker Chinese economy makes energy and commodity prices cheaper by weakening demand for them. The U.S. is a net consumer of energy and commodities, not a net producer. Through these channels, then, a weaker Chinese economy brings collateral benefits to America.