Market exchange rates can move around a lot, particularly but not only around currency crises. For this reason, they can properly be averaged over several years for international comparisons. However, the Chinese yuan has been fixed at roughly 8.3/dollar since 1994. In my view it is modestly undervalued, as evidenced by the steady growth of China's foreign exchange reserves, the result of central bank market intervention to keep the yuan from appreciating. China has also had a significant trade surplus in recent years. However, it still maintains controls on outflows of domestic capital. And it is about the enter the WTO, following which under the access agreements China must reduce its import barriers much more than its trading partners do. Many Chinese are fearful of withering foreign competition. If these fears prove to be valid and widespread, the yuan might have to depreciate over the next five years, although my guess is the required depreciation will be modest, e.g. 10-15 percent. Moreover, WTO membership may result in more inbound foreign investment, thus mitigating the required depreciation or even eliminating it altogether. The bottom line is this: the market exchange rate provides a much better basis for converting Chinese GDP into dollars than does some artificially constructed ppp rate. Following the pattern of Japan and Korea, the real exchange rate of the rmb might appreciate over time, as China develops, but that process will occur at a modest rate, over decades.
Paper presented at Congress public hearing "Chinese Budget Issues and the Role of the PLA in the Economy," December 7, 2001.