China’s National Bureau of Statistics has announced the country’s economy grew 2.3% in 2020, as a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic accelerated.
By contrast, the United States, Japan and many nations in Europe are expected to have suffered steep falls in economic output.
This feat seemed improbable a year ago, when the virus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. As travel and business ground to nearly a halt, the country’s economy plunged by 6.8 percent in the January-March period, the first contraction in half a century.
Since then, the economy has improved steadily, finishing the year with growth of 6.5 percent in the last three months compared to the same period in 2019. While the recovery remains uneven, factories across China are working to fill overseas orders and a boom in exports and infrastructure is expected to drive the economy.
The economy “recovered steadily” and “living standards were ensured forcefully,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. It said the ruling party’s development goals were “accomplished better than expectation” but gave no details.
Exports rose 3.6% last year as growth was aided by global demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical supplies. When Wuhan was still under lockdown, the authorities moved to get manufacturing up and running again in other areas.
They also provided buses to get workers back from their home villages to factories after Chinese New Year. State-owned banks extended special loans to factories, while many government agencies gave partial refunds of business taxes that had been paid before the pandemic.
The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8%.
Online sales of consumer goods rose 14.8% as millions of families who were ordered to stay home shifted to buying groceries and clothing online.
Factory output rose 2.8% over 2019. Earlier data also showed activity accelerating toward the end of the year. Production rose 7.3% in December.
In a speech published by a Communist Party journal, Qiushi, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, warned of the economic challenges ahead.
“There are profound adjustments underway to the international economy, technology, culture, security and politics, and the world has entered a period of turbulent change,” Mr. Xi said.
“In the coming period, we face an external environment of increased headwinds and counter-currents, and we must prepare to respond to a series of new risks and challenges.”
China has re-imposed travel controls in some areas after a rise in COVID cases this month. About 150 cases a day have been reported in the current outbreaks and the government has mobilized swiftly, by building hospitals, imposing mass testing and putting at least 28 million people under lockdown.
Beijing’s aggressive top-down approach is said to have kept the virus from spreading rapidly across the country. There have been nearly 100,000 total reported cases and fewer than 5,000 deaths, mostly centred in Wuhan according to official figures.
In the United States by contrast, there have been over 220,000 cases a day and 3,300 daily deaths.