China’s economy grows 3%, among worst performances on record

Official figures reflect toll of Beijing’s since-abandoned ‘zero COVID’ pandemic strategy.

China’s economy grew 3 percent in 2022, one of the weakest performances in the country’s modern history, according to government data.

The Chinese economy expanded 2.9 percent during the final quarter, slowing from 3.9 percent growth during the July-September period, National Bureau of Statistics figures showed on Tuesday.

Excluding 2020, the Chinese economy in 2022 had its weakest performance since 1976, the final year of Mao Zedong’s three-decade rule.

China’s government had set a goal of 5.5 percent growth, before dropping the target from official announcements amid worsening economic conditions.

Still, the fourth-quarter growth came significantly ahead of some economists’ expectations.

“The data exceeded expectations over the board, which means fewer risks to Q1-23 growth. We have revised our growth forecast for 2023 to 6.0 percent,” Carlos Casanova, senior economist for Asia at UBP in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera.

Casanova said, however, that the latest official statistics contained warning signs for long-term growth, including the first official decline in the population since 1961.

“Namely, China experienced a permanent loss in potential output as a result of low fertility rates during three long years of zero-COVID, resulting in a marked population decline.”

China’s strict “zero-COVID” pandemic policy weighed heavily on the world’s second-largest economy towards the end of last year, with lockdowns hobbling economic activity in major industrial centres, including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Beijing made an abrupt shift away from the strategy last month after unprecedented mass protests across the country.

China earlier this month reopened its borders following three years of international isolation, after earlier scrapping most of its draconian restrictions. The country’s reopening has been followed by a surge in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals, crematoriums and morgues.

Health authorities have reported nearly 60,000 COVID deaths since early December, although experts outside the country and international experience suggest the actual death toll is likely to be far higher.

Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis, said she expects China’s economy to see modest growth in the first quarter of this year.

“We still need to see the recovery coming for the first quarter,” Garcia-Herrero told Al Jazeera, predicting growth of about 5.5 percent for 2023 as a whole.

“I am not expecting a great first quarter, maybe something in the order of 4 percent growth, so not too different from last year.”

Source: Al Jazeera