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China Says Its Economy, Recovering From The Pandemic, Grew 2.3% Last Year

People walk in Wuhan on Jan. 10, the eve of the first anniversary of China confirming its first COVID-19 death. Chinese officials said on Monday that its economy managed to grow 2.3% in 2020.
Nicolas Asfouri
AFP via Getty Images
People walk in Wuhan on Jan. 10, the eve of the first anniversary of China confirming its first COVID-19 death. Chinese officials said on Monday that its economy managed to grow 2.3% in 2020.

Just over a year after the world's first coronavirus cases were identified in China, the country's economy has bounced back from the ravages of the pandemic.

China's economy grew by 2.3% last year, according to data published Monday by the country's National Bureau of Statistics. The steady economic recovery was largely expected, and puts China on a track that other countries haven't achieved.

"It's likely that China could be the only major economy that has significant positive economic growth in 2020," Nicholas Lardy, a China specialist at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, told NPR in May. "The U.S. is clearly going to be negative. Europe is negative. Japan is going to be negative."

When the pandemic first hit, however, China's economic outlook was a lot less sunny.

Thanks to sweeping and strictly enforced lockdowns, the country's year-on-year GDP for the first three months of 2020 shrank 6.8%, its biggest drop in decades. And as the economy constricted and unemployment rates rose, officials in the spring took the unprecedented move of scrapping their annual economic growth targets.

As the year progressed and the pandemic receded in China, the country saw an economic upturn helped largely by an increase in consumer spending. Its GDP went up by 3.2% in the second quarter, 4.9% percent in the third quarter and 6.5% for the fourth quarter.

China also reported a record $75.4 billion surplus in November, after exports to the rest of the world jumped $21.1% compared to the previous year. As NPR's Scott Horsley reported, much of that increase was accounted for by exports to the United States, despite the tariffs imposed by President Trump.

Still, an English translation of the statistics bureau report noted that "the changing epidemic dynamics and external environment pose a multitude of uncertainties and the foundation for economic recovery is yet to be consolidated."

As NPR's Emily Feng has reported, Chinese policymakers have pledged to continue policies that support private businesses and consumer demand, but will scale back certain credit-boosting policies in the months ahead.

The country has largely managed to bring the pandemic under control, allowing many businesses to reopen at pre-pandemic levels, according to Feng. And it still imposes strict lockdowns in regions with an uptick in cases: As of mid-January, a cluster of more than 600 cases in Hebei province has prompted the lockdown of some 11 million people.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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