World's elite gathers for Davos 2014

Lloyd Blankfein: 'This could be China's century'

China may have dialed down lately on its turbocharged growth, but the head of Goldman Sachs thinks the nation's motor is only beginning to run.

"This could be China's century," Goldman's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, during a session on day two of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Blankfein's firm has been generally bullish on emerging markets, and he reiterated that position during a debate over the nation's future that turned testy at points.

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While he believes China is on a strong growth path, that doesn't mean there won't be some substantial bumps along the way. He said investors should approach emerging markets with some caution.

"We're bulls on China—and I think people should manage expectations in the emerging markets," Blankfein said when asked to reconcile the two positions. "Higher results are usually accompanied with higher risks, and the higher risks are manifest."

China's gross domestic product growth has slowed to the 7 percent to 8 percent range—still substantial but well below the double-digit pace the nation had been setting in recent years.

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Countries dependent on China, though, may find out the relative slowdown isn't all bad if it can lead to a more sustainable path.

"If you want sustainable growth, environmentally safe, producing high jobs—with that you're going to have to accept low growth," Blankfein said. "I know it's quite an ambitious plan. The execution issues are going to be very, very critical, or it won't go well."

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.