China must keep economic order while battling coronavirus: Xi - GulfToday

China must keep economic order while battling coronavirus: Xi


Workers, wearing face masks, rope a container ship at the port in Qingdao, Shandong province. Reuters

China must make every effort to maintain economic and social control as it battles the coronavirus epidemic, and avoid causing panic that could lead to secondary “disasters,” President Xi Jinping told senior officials earlier this month.

Reuters reported this week that Xi had warned officials on Feb. 3 that efforts to contain the new coronavirus had gone too far, threatening the economy. Those comments came days before Beijing rolled out measures to soften the blow.

The epidemic has become a major test for Xi in how to balance stamping out the epidemic with protecting an economy already growing at its slowest in nearly three decades.

His Feb. 3 speech to the Politburo’s Standing Committee was published in full by the leading Communist Party theoretical journal Qiushi on Saturday. It showed how Xi had urged officials to roll out policies to support the economy even as they worked to control the spread of the coronavirus.

In the speech, he said that the epidemic, which has killed more than 1,500 people and infected over 66,000 so far, was impacting the economy, especially service industries. Actions needed to be taken to maintain China’s industrial chain and encourage enterprises to resume production, he said.

China “still has to adhere to this year’s economic and social development goals”, Xi said in the speech.

He also said it was necessary to increase financial support, such as preferential policies for loan interest rates and terms, and get migrant workers in major industries back to work.

Big projects, especially those in manufacturing, should start construction on time, he said, adding that boosting consumption was an important hedge against the epidemic’s impact. Work should be done to promote the wider adoption of 5G technology, as well as the purchase of products associated with healthy living and cars, Xi added.

The epidemic had revealed “shortcomings and deficiencies” in national governance, he said, such as how the wildlife animal industry had remained huge despite clear risks in their consumption, and how the country’s reserves of health and anti-epidemic materials were seriously inadequate.

A tendency to insist on formalities and bureaucracy have also emerged, creating problems in fighting the epidemic, he said, adding that party members who did not adequately engage in the work must be held accountable and removed from their posts.

He also said he gave instructions on preventing and containing the coronavirus on Jan. 7, when he chaired another Politburo Standing Committee meeting. China first confirmed that the virus had passed from person-to-person and infected some medical staff on Jan. 20.

China will maintain its prudent monetary policy, vice governor of the central bank said on Saturday, at a time the economy has been hit by a coronaviurs outbreak.

Fan Yifei, vice governor at the People’s Bank of China, told a press briefing that consumer prices were unlikely to rise sharply.

He added that non-performing loan ratio remained relatively low in China and he saw space to deal with bad loan problems

Meanwhile, China’s market regulator announced on Saturday policies to encourage companies to resume work amid a coronavirus outbreak, saying it would accelerate the approval process for production licences.

The State Administration for Market Regulation would also facilitate online reporting for merger and acquisition deals, as well as anti-monopoly reviews, it said in a statement on its website.

The coronavirus-hit Chinese economy will grow at its slowest rate since the financial crisis in the current quarter, according to a Reuters poll of economists who said the downturn will be short-lived if the outbreak is contained. A Feb. 7-13 Reuters poll of 40 economists based in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as Europe and the United States, predicted China’s annual economic growth in the first quarter of 2020 to slump to 4.5% from 6.0% in the previous quarter.

That drop was expected to drag down the full-year growth rate in 2020 to 5.5% from 6.1% in 2019, its weakest since at least 1990 when comparable records began.

However, economists were optimistic the economy would bounce back as soon as the second quarter, with growth then forecast to recover to a median 5.7%, according to the poll.

That figure was pushed higher by several optimistic forecasts from economists based in mainland China. The range was 2.9%-6.5%.

The coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan - a nerve center in the global supply chain with a population of just under 11 million - and so far has claimed over 1,300 lives in China. That outstrips fatalities from the SARS outbreak in 2002-03 which killed 774 people worldwide. “Nobody knows the damage China’s virus containment efforts will have on growth, and we probably never will for sure, given the opacity of the statistics. We reckon true GDP growth will fall below 2% in Q1, from 4.0% in Q4, which already was substantially lower than the official 6.0%,” said Freya Beamish, chief Asia economist at Pantheon in London.


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