What is the most important high-level dialogue in international economics? The answer is not the discussion among the finance ministers of the Group of Seven high-income countries. It is the “strategic dialogue” between China and the US. This is not because the latter will produce answers, but because it asks the right question. The biggest challenge in international economic policymaking is the incorporation of China. This, to his credit, Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, has recognised. But his bilateral approach will fail. The G7 should, instead, be replaced by a multilateral body that can address such issues more effectively.
To understand the challenge, we must appreciate what makes China’s impact special. Experts often describe today’s globalisation as the “second globalisation”, to distinguish it from the “first globalisation” between 1870 and 1914. In the earlier era the rising economic power was the US and the UK was by far the world’s most important exporter of capital. But China is now emerging as both the world’s most dynamic economy and its largest source of capital. This helps explain a signal feature of our era: the combination of rapid growth with low real interest rates.