In virus rebound, China’s GDP grows by record 18.3pc

Published April 17, 2021
People walk at the Beijing's central business district (CBD), on the day of the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China in this March file photo. — Reuters
People walk at the Beijing's central business district (CBD), on the day of the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China in this March file photo. — Reuters

BEIJING: China’s economy expanded at a record pace in the first quarter as the country continued its rapid recovery from last year’s pandemic-fuelled slump, official data showed on Friday.

The 18.3 per cent explosion in gross domestic product growth was the fastest pace since quarterly records began three decades ago, but came off a historic contraction in 2020 during the depths of the pandemic.

It was also slightly short of forecasts in a survey of economists.

While the coronavirus first emerged in central China in late 2019, the country was also the quickest to bounce back after authorities imposed strict control measures and consumers stayed home.

“The national economy made a good start,” National Bureau of Statistics spokeswoman Liu Aihua told reporters on Friday.

The sharp spike was partly due to “incomparable factors such as the low base figure of last year and increase of working days due to staff staying put during the Lunar New Year” holiday, said Liu.

Migrant workers were urged to remain in the areas where they work during the break owing to fears that the annual massive migration might lead to local outbreaks.

On a quarterly basis, GDP rose 0.6pc from the last quarter of 2020, slowing slightly, a shift analysts attributed to a wave of local virus outbreaks which triggered travel restrictions and lockdowns.

In a sign that the country’s crucial consumer sector is getting back up to pace, the figures showed retail sales surged in March, bringing first-quarter growth to 33.9pc as life largely returned to normal.

Industrial output rose a less-than-estimated 24.5pc in the quarter.

The figures come days after officials announced that exports — and particularly imports — had rocketed in March.

Liu, however, warned that the international landscape still contained “high uncertainties”.

While vaccines are being rolled out around the world, the distribution is uneven and a pick-up in infections is forcing governments to re-impose containment measures, holding back recovery.

The urban unemployment rate, a figure analysts have been closely watching, ticked down slightly to 5.3pc.

But economists expect growth drivers could change in the months ahead and have warned of an “uneven” recovery so far.

“Industrial production has been taking the lead in recovery last year, and it looks a bit tired now,” said UOB economist Ho Woei Chen.

“There is expectation that with retail sales’ outperformance and a recovering job market, that there is momentum picking up in private consumption,” she said, adding that this should take over the lead in growth later in the year.

But Oxford Economics’ head of Asia economics Louis Kuijs cautioned that “a full rebound in household spending hinges on convincing vaccination and further improvements in labour market conditions”.

Beijing has been working to reposition its economy from a coal-powered manufacturing base to one powered by high-tech green energy and domestic consumption.

But the country’s strong post-pandemic recovery has been powered by coal, with a raft of new plants approved, and environmentalists are concerned this could stem the shift towards greener policies.

A report from analysis company TransitionZero on Thursday said China needed to “cancel all new coal (projects) immediately and indefinitely” and convert almost all of its coal fleet by 2040 in order to meet the zero-emissions target.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2021

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