China’s power cuts may foreshadow shortages of global goods

Published September 29, 2021
Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province, Nov 28, 2019. — AP/File
Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province, Nov 28, 2019. — AP/File

BEIJING: Global shoppers face possible shortages of smartphones and other goods ahead of Christmas after power cuts to meet official energy use targets forced Chinese factories to shut down and left some households in the dark.

In the northeastern city of Liaoyang, 23 people were hospitalised with gas poisoning after ventilation in a metal casting factory was shut off following a power outage, according to state broadcaster CCTV. No deaths were reported.

Factories were idled to avoid exceeding limits on energy use imposed by Beijing to promote efficiency. Economists and an environmental group say manufacturers used up this year’s quota faster than planned as export demand rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic.

A components supplier for Apple Inc.’s iPhones said it suspended production at a factory west of Shanghai under orders from local authorities.

The disruption to China’s vast manufacturing industries during one of their busiest seasons reflects the ruling Communist Party’s struggle to balance economic growth with efforts to rein in pollution and emissions of climate-changing gases.

Beijing’s unprecedented resolve in enforcing energy consumption limits could result in long-term benefits, but the short-term economic costs are substantial, Nomura economists Ting Lu, Lisheng Wang and Jing Wang said in a report on Monday.

They said the impact might be so severe that they cut their economic growth forecast for China to 4.7pc from 5.1pc over a year earlier in the current quarter. They cut their outlook for annual growth to 7.7pc from 8.2pc.

Global financial markets already were on edge about the possible collapse of one of Chinas biggest real estate developers, Evergrande Group, which is struggling to avoid a default on billions of dollars of debt.

Manufacturers already face shortages of processor chips, disruptions in shipping and other lingering effects of the global shutdown of travel and trade to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents of China’s northeast, where autumn temperatures are falling, report power cuts and appealed on social media for the government to restore supplies.

The crunch comes as global leaders prepare to attend a UN environmental conference by video link on Oct 12-13 in the southwestern city of Kunming. That increases pressure on President Xi Jinping’s government, as the meeting’s host, to show it is sticking to emissions and energy efficiency targets.

China is one of the world’s biggest emitters of climate-changing industrial gases and consumes more energy per unit of economic output than developed countries.

The ruling party also is preparing for the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital, Beijing, and the nearby city of Shijiazhuang in February, a period when it will want clear blue skies.

Scores of companies have announced power rationing could force them to delay filling orders and might hurt them financially.

Apple components supplier Eson Precision Engineering Co. Ltd. said Sunday it would halt production at its factory in Kunshan, west of Shanghai, through Thursday in line with the local governments power restriction policy.

Eson said the suspension shouldnt have a significant impact on operations.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a question about the possible impact on iPhone supplies.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021

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