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A worker in a protective suit stands at a food shop in Shanghai on December 12. On December 8, China’s State Council issued new guidelines on how to manage and monitor Covid-19 symptoms. Photo: Reuters

Letters | As China eases its zero-Covid policy, can it prove the naysayers wrong?

  • Readers discuss China’s economic resilience during the pandemic, and how work-life balance can spur the economy
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On September 22, 2015, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech in Seattle in which he shared his first-hand experience of China’s extraordinary journey. “We can fulfil the Chinese dream only when we link it with our people’s yearning for a better life,” he said.

The president’s words were by no means lip service: between 2015 and 2019, the nation recorded annual gross domestic product growth of 6-7 per cent, 3-4 percentage points higher than that of the United States, Japan and Germany, the other three of the world’s four largest economies.

Then, in 2020, Covid-19 hit the world hard. A chorus of economists warned of the impact of China’s stringent zero-Covid policy on the economy.

Despite the intense outbreaks in 2020, China recorded GDP growth of 2.2 per cent, while the other large economies recorded negative growth – the United States -3.4 per cent, Germany -4.6 per cent and Japan -4.5 per cent.

Although China’s resilience during challenging times should be clear by now, why are sceptical voices still raised now that the country has begun to gradually unwind its zero-Covid restrictions and, in a pro-growth shift, proposed a 5 per cent GDP growth target for next year?
While the central government can decide to reopen the Chinese economy overnight, it takes time to restore market confidence, both among foreign investors and domestic consumers. Li Daokui, Mansfield Freeman professor of economics at China’s Tsinghua University, said in an extended interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on November 30, “the long run impact might be already shaped, that is, the international economic community are thinking twice about the stability of supply chains in China” and that they may opt to “rebuild their own supply backup chains in their own countries or regions”.
That said, easing the zero-Covid policy is not a quick fix that will get the nation back on track for 5-6 per cent growth. Beijing should further push to increase the vaccination rate among the elderly and adopt Western mRNA vaccines, along with other controls to prevent a surge in cases after the reopening. Only through living with the virus, keeping some control measures and avoiding policy flip-flops can consumer and investor confidence in the nation’s economy and supply chains be restored.

Kui Man Kwan, Tiu Keng Leng

Five-day work week no obstacle to prosperity

With reference to the letter, “Guidelines on working hours in Hong Kong too long in coming” (December 9), let’s remember that China proclaimed the move to a five-day work week in March 1995. It was like a perennially shut door had suddenly opened for the retail market, with Saturday and Sunday becoming a golden time for shops to attract customers.

The five-day work week enhanced work-life balance, and that may have promoted domestic spending as well as the ability to work harder in addition to easing traffic congestion. It has not hindered the economy’s shift into the fast lane.

The power of the five-day work week as a social and economic tool can be seen in China’s prosperity today. It is time Hong Kong followed “one country, one system” in this regard.

Edmond Pang, Fanling