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ECONOMY

Can Services Save China?

By Yu Hairong and Pan Che
China's growing services sector reached a milestone in 2015, when it accounted for more than 50% of gross domestic product. Above, a nursing employee bathes a newborn at a postpartum care center in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, on March 29. Photo: IC
China's growing services sector reached a milestone in 2015, when it accounted for more than 50% of gross domestic product. Above, a nursing employee bathes a newborn at a postpartum care center in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, on March 29. Photo: IC

(Beijing) — Developing China’s services sector has played a key part in government strategy to shift the country’s economy to a model based on consumption and away from the credit-fueled investment and export-led growth that propelled its expansion for three decades.

A milestone was reached in 2013 when services, also known as the tertiary sector, became the biggest part of the economy, accounting for 46.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 44% for the secondary sector and almost double its 23.9% share in 1978, when China embarked on its reform and opening-up policy. (See graphic “Share of Value-Added Output in GDP.”)

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Another landmark came in 2015, when services, which include retailing, transportation, telecommunications and finance, rose to more than 50% of GDP, while secondary industries, comprising mining, manufacturing, construction, and power production, saw their share sink even further, to 40.9%.

The services sector is also the biggest employer, accounting for 43.5%, or 337.6 million, of the total workforce of 776 million in 2016, and compared with 28.8% for the secondary industry. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that from 2012 to 2016, services-sector employment rose by 60.67 million, while employment in agriculture fell by 42.8 million and in the secondary sector by 8.91 million.

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