(p. B1) Factories are whirring, new apartments are being snapped up, and more jobs are up for grabs. When China released its new economic figures on Friday, they showed a remarkable postpandemic surge.
The question is whether small businesses and Chinese consumers can fully share in the good times.
China reported on Friday that its economy grew by a jaw-dropping 18.3 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year. While the figure is steep, it is as much a reflection of the past — the country’s output shrank 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from a year earlier — as it is an indication of how China is doing now.
A year ago, entire cities were shut down, planes were grounded and highways were blocked to control the spread of a relentless virus. Today, global demand for computer screens and video consoles that China makes is soaring as people work from home and as a pandemic recovery beckons. That demand has continued as Americans with stimulus checks look to spend money on patio furniture, electronics and other goods made in Chinese factories.
China’s recovery has also been powered by big infrastructure. Cranes dot city skylines. Construction projects for highways and railroads have provided short-term jobs. Property sales have also helped strengthen economic activity.
But exports and property investment can carry China’s growth only so far.
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(p. B3) A slow vaccination rollout and fresh memories of lockdowns have left many consumers in the country skittish. . . . When virus outbreaks occur, the Chinese authorities are quick to put new lockdowns in place, hurting small businesses and their customers.
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Families continue to save at a higher rate than they did before the pandemic, something that worries economists like Louis Kuijs, who is head of Asian economics at Oxford Economics. Mr. Kuijs is looking at household savings as an indication of whether Chinese consumers are ready to start splurging after months of being stuck at home.
“More people still seem to not go all the way in terms of carefree spending,” he said. “At times there are still some lingering Covid concerns, but there is perhaps also a concern about the general economic situation.”
. . .
Mr. [Jinqiu] Li, who is recently married and has a baby at home, is still choosing to save instead of spend. He had planned to work for the family business, but it has been hit by the pandemic and he doesn’t think there is much opportunity for him if he stays.
“The whole family has some sense of crisis,” Mr. Li said. “Because of the pandemic and because of family business, I have a sense of crisis.”
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(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 15, 2021, and has the title “China’s Economy Is Booming. Shoppers Are Skittish Anyway.” The quote starting “More people” appeared in the print, but not in the online, version of the article.)