China's Approach to Capital Flows Since 1978: Working Paper 2008-02

Working Paper
April 16, 2008

Juann H. Hung

Since China began its pro-market reform in 1978, its management of capital flows has followed a cautious learning-by-doing approach, guided by the goal of propelling strong economic growth while minimizing risk to stability. Claiming that the country’s financial infrastructure is still not ready to deal with large swings of financial flows, China has frequently fine-tuned restrictions of portfolio flows but generally kept a tight rein of those flows. Meanwhile, promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows (and outflows in recent years)—with the aim of accessing foreign management know-how, technologies, raw material, and markets for exports—has been an important element of China’s development strategy.

There is some evidence that China’s approach of encouraging FDI in strategic locations and sectors while restricting portfolio flows has contributed to its high growth rates since 1994. But that approach also has some problematic legacies. China’s FDI policies may have exacerbated a pattern of unbalanced growth between rural and urban areas and rising income inequality. China’s gradualist approach toward capital-account liberalization also has retarded the development of an efficient domestic financial market and well-functioning foreign exchange market, which need to be in place for the smooth functioning of a flexible exchange rate system.