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A new International Monetary Fund report on China’s changing trade patterns has challenged so many comforting myths propagated recently by cheerleaders for America’s trade and broader economic policies that it’s easy to lose count.

These myths matter greatly because if you buy them, then it’s logical to buy the approach to globalization pursued by American presidents and Congresses in both parties for the last quarter century. Rather than worry that this U.S. strategy has permitted China to steal the march on America economically, its proponents confidently assert that Beijing’s export- and investment-heavy economic blueprint is reaping rapidly diminishing returns, and urgently needs replacement. Reasons cited focus on soaring Chinese wages and resurgent American competitiveness.

Even better, insist the optimists (which include the authors of this new IMF report), China has already learned this lesson and is “rebalancing” its economy to seek growth led by consumers – which will prove a bonanza for its trade partners. And no need to fret about China mortally threatening America’s domestic manufacturing – with all that’s boded ominously by that possibility for the whole economy as a whole and for national security. The PRC remains stuck turning out mainly labor-intensive goods, or at best simply slapping together more sophisticated stuff from imported high-value components.

Not that the Fund is necessarily the last word on the subject. But its new China trade study sure presents copious evidence for the following conclusions:

>Instead of hitting a wall, China’s exports are more competitive than ever. As I reported earlier this week, calculations based on the IMF’s data show that these shipments are grabbing more global market share than ever. This success, in the meantime, debunks another example of hopium regarding China’s future – that slowing global growth in and of itself means that Beijing’s policies urgently need changing. Such analysis has always ignored China’s potential to keep growing through exports by winning ever larger shares of a stagnant and even shrinking worldwide pie.

China’s exports have indeed been falling lately on a year-on-year basis, as has its worldwide trade surplus. But both remain at lofty levels, indicating that trade’s role in powering the country’s growth is still impressive. These statistics also indicate that if and when global growth revives significantly – as the leaders of the world’s major economies keep trying to achieve – China will be the paramount beneficiary. As a result, the imbalances that helped set the stage for the financial crisis will head back to dangerous proportions again.

>Despite the clearly stunning increase in household wealth throughout China’s population and workforce in recent decades, not only is rebalancing progress painfully slow when gauged by trade’s role in the economy. It’s been at least as slow in the sense that matters most to companies and workers in other countries who hope to supply this larger and potentially immense Chinese consumer market.

For as the Fund observes, (a) “While Chinese consumption is on an upswing, imports of consumption goods and services remain modest except for tourism….” and (b) “even as China succeeds in rebalancing toward consumption, it could be that this increased demand is satisfied by production from within China, and not from other countries.”

>Finally, as I’ve written previously, the IMF and the World Bank have found that China’s manufacturing keeps moving steadily up the technology and value chain – i.e., from low-cost, labor-intensive products to capital- and knowledge-intensive goods. This trend, moreover, includes providing ever more Chinese-made parts and components of advanced manufacturing products. In fact, as the new Fund reports, a higher share of the content of China’s exports is now Made in China than is the Korean content of Korean exports and the Taiwanese content of Taiwan’s exports.

Not that China isn’t experiencing major economic problems – notably, a soaring ratio of the whole economy’s debts to the size of its economy, and state-run or dominated financial institutions and markets that are too easily manipulated – sometimes incompetently so – by the government. But the IMF findings add to the case that the productive sectors of China’s economy are passing the test of global competitiveness – and with increasingly impressive marks. In fact, the only major relevant points omitted are that much of this progress keeps being made in violation of global commercial rules and norms, and at the expense of America’s productive sectors.

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