The central bank has been gradually pushing up open-market interest rates, in the hope that competition will start playing a greater role than political influence in deciding who can borrow money. That policy could help small and medium businesses obtain loans in the long term, but it has had the short-term effect of pushing up borrowing costs.
Many larger businesses have turned to Hong Kong to bypass the mainland's credit crunch. Arthur Yuen, the deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the region's de facto central bank, said at a rare news conference on Tuesday that officials had been closely monitoring rapid growth in lending from the semiautonomous Chinese territory to the mainland and were not especially worried at this point.
One reason, he said, was that virtually all of the lending was going to China's biggest banks and biggest state-owned enterprises, and to the mainland operations of multinationals, rather than the small and medium enterprises that are more vulnerable to the economic headwinds. The schism in the credit environment is echoed more broadly in this vast economy. Even as certain sectors struggle, large areas of strength endure.
At the opening on Tuesday of the Canton Fair, China's main international trade exhibition, throngs of buyers from around the world showed up to haggle with vendors from all over the country. In some categories, like household tools, China still dominates global supply and is starting to benefit as demand in the West begins to recover.
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Leo Ma, the export manager for paint rollers at the JOC Great Wall Corporation, a partly state-owned industrial conglomerate based in Shanghai, was untroubled by a recent weakness in orders and said that his business expected annual growth of more than 30 percent to continue in the years ahead. "After Chinese New Year this year, as in past years, there is a bit of a lull," he said.
But China's knapsack and handbag industry, with dozens of small, fiercely competing companies, illustrates many trends now buffeting the country. Blue-collar wages have more than quintupled in the last decade as far more young people attend universities and as the "one child" policy has begun to reduce the number of young workers. Borrowing money to finance inventories of raw materials has become a costly ordeal.
All of the top international companies are reducing the proportion of bags they buy from factories in China and shifting production to less-expensive countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, said Tatiana Olchanetzky, a leading handbag manufacturing consultant who moved last summer to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam after 18 years of living in Hong Kong and focusing on southern China.
Within China, customers have become very conscious of labels, forcing companies like Hunan Xinwei to develop their own brands. "Business lately has been very, very tough," said Mr. Yin, Hunan Xinwei's president.