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China ‘faces mass social unrest’
Chinese authorities have already had to deal with workers’ protests

Rising unemployment and the economic slowdown could cause massive social turmoil in China, a leading scholar in the Communist Party has said.

“The redistribution of wealth through theft and robbery could dramatically increase and menaces to social stability will grow,” Zhou Tianyong, a researcher at the Central Party School in Beijing, wrote in the China Economic Times.

“This is extremely likely to create a reactive situation of mass-scale social turmoil,” he wrote.

His views do not reflect leadership policy but highlight worries in elite circles about the impact of the economic slowdown.

Mr Zhou warned that the real rate of urban joblessness reached 12% this year and could reach 14% next year as the economy slows.

China’s annual GDP growth has already slowed to 9% in the third quarter, from 10.1% in the second. Some forecasters see growth slowing to 7.5% next year.

The government has launched a stimulus package and cut interest rates to boost the economy.

Unrest warning

Last month, China’s top planner warned that the economic slowdown in China could fuel social unrest.

Zhang Ping, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the impact of the global crisis on China’s economy was deepening.

“Excessive bankruptcies and production cuts will lead to massive unemployment and stir social unrest,” he said.


US job losses reach 34-year high

US employers axed 533,000 jobs in November, the biggest monthly cut in 34 years, the US Labor Department said.

In a dramatic indication of the worsening situation in the economy, the US jobless rate rose to a 15-year high of 6.7% from 6.5% in October.

Since these latest figures were compiled, further jobs losses have been announced, including big cuts at AT&T.

The grim economic data pushed Wall Street shares down by 2.5% while oil fell to a near four-year low of $40.

Recent data has fuelled fears that the world’s biggest economy is set for a deep, long downturn.

“This was much worse than was expected and represents wholesale capitulation. The threat of a widespread depression is now real and present,” said Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business.

Reacting to the unemployment data, US President-elect Barack Obama said: “There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Recession year

The National Bureau of Economic Research said this week that the US entered a recession in December 2007.

In the past six months the US has lost 1.55 million jobs, almost as many as were lost in the whole 2001 recession

Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics

Oil prices fall after jobs data

Separately, a measure of US service sector activity, the Institute for Supply Management’s index, dropped to a record low in November.

The US service sector makes up about 80% of US economic activity.

November was the 11th month in a row that the economy lost jobs.

“In the past six months the US has lost 1.55 million jobs, almost as many as were lost in the whole 2001 recession,” said Ian Shepherdson at High Frequency Economics.

“You can’t get much uglier than this. The economy has just collapsed, and has gone into a free fall,” said Richard Yamarone at Argus Research in New York.

But some analysts say November job losses were expected to be very high.

“Markets have priced in the high job losses and unemployment rate in November,” said Arpitha Bykere at RGE Monitor.

Bleak outlook

The economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.5% from July to September due to the biggest fall in US consumer spending in 28 years.

Many economists believe the gross domestic product will fall even more sharply in the current quarter.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Board painted a bleak picture of the US economy in its influential Beige Book, a report used to help determine US interest rates.

It said economic activity has weakened across the US in the past two months, with retail sales, and vehicle sales in particular, “down significantly”.

US companies such as AT&T, DuPont, JPMorgan Chase and mining company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold have announced job cuts this month.

Analysts fear the trend will worsen further.

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