Working paper

Unpacking China’s industrial policy and its implications for Europe

This paper assess how beneficial industrial policy has been for China and how exportable to the European Union its model might be

Publishing date
13 May 2024
WP 11 2024

China is often credited with a successful application of industrial policy. One important particularity of China’s industrial policy is that it aims at levelling the playing field between the state economy and the private economy in access to finance, yet within a framework of strategic goals. This aim is not relevant for market economies, such as those of the European Union, but only for those where state enterprises are clearly privileged.

Notwithstanding the difficulties in making valid comparisons, our analysis of how China conducts industrial policy in a variety of sectors points to success in some sectors but not all. More importantly, productivity growth in China has already been declining for two decades.

Given the very large resources that China has put into industrial policy, with subsidies being only one part, it is surprising that success is not more evident. This relates partly to factors including cronyism and regional protectionism. While the former might be less relevant for the EU given the different institutional background, the latter certainly is relevant since the EU faces the potential consequences of member country-level industrial policy for its single market. A lesson from China seems to come from the sectoral focus, with a long-term and economic-security mindset. The EU is far from this, but it is in the process of linking economic security to industrial policy.

Finally, responding to China’s industrial policy involves diverse investigations and challenges in measuring subsidies accurately. Understanding China’s very diverse and complex approach to helping companies achieve the government’s industrial policy goals is crucial for anticipating the consequences of China’s actions. These could be positive, such as cheaper imports of green technology, or negative, such as Chinese overcapacity spilling over to the EU single market.

This is an output of China Horizons, Bruegel's contribution in the project Dealing with a resurgent China (DWARC). This project has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON Research and Innovation Actions under grant agreement No. 101061700.

EU funded project disclaimer

About the authors

  • Alicia García-Herrero

    Alicia García Herrero is a Senior fellow at Bruegel.

    She is the Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at French investment bank Natixis, based in Hong Kong and is an independent Board Member of AGEAS insurance group. Alicia also serves as a non-resident Senior fellow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of the National University Singapore (NUS). Alicia is also Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Finally, Alicia is a Member of the Council of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUF), a Member of the Board of the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI), a member of the Council of Advisors on Economic Affairs to the Spanish Government, a member of the Advisory Board of the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and an advisor to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s research arm (HKIMR).

    In previous years, Alicia held the following positions: Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Member of the Asian Research Program at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), Head of the International Economy Division of the Bank of Spain, Member of the Counsel to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Head of Emerging Economies at the Research Department at Banco Santander, and Economist at the International Monetary Fund. As regards her academic career, Alicia has served as visiting Professor at John Hopkins University (SAIS program), China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and Carlos III University. 

    Alicia holds a PhD in Economics from George Washington University and has published extensively in refereed journals and books (see her publications in ResearchGate, Google Scholar, SSRN or REPEC). Alicia is very active in international media (such as BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC  and CNN) as well as social media (LinkedIn and Twitter). As a recognition of her thought leadership, Alicia was included in the TOP Voices in Economy and Finance by LinkedIn in 2017 and #6 Top Social Media leader by Refinitiv in 2020.

  • Robin Schindowski

    Robin is a Research analyst at Bruegel. His work focuses on the Chinese economy and its interactions with the international economic architecture. In particular, he is involved in the project "Dealing with a resurging China" under the Horizon Europe Fund.

    He studied Contemporary Chinese Studies (BA) at the University of Tübingen - including a semester at Peking University and a semester at Fudan University in Shanghai. He holds a master's degree in Economics from La Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Paris-Saclay, with the second year fully funded as a scholar of the German Academic Exchange Service. He wrote his master's thesis on the impact of patronage networks in the Chinese government on economic outcomes. Between his bachelor's and master's degrees, he worked as an industry consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Germany, where he conducted projects in the field of supply chain management with a regional focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

    Robin is a native German speaker, fluent in English, and full working knowledge of French and Mandarin. 

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Alessia Amighini, Alicia García-Herrero, Michal Krystyanczuk, Robin Schindowski and Jianwei Xu