“Covid brakes must change to help the Chinese economy”

BEIJING: A Chinese think tank on Monday expressed rare public disagreement with the ruling Communist Party’s harsh zero Covid policy, saying restrictions that shut down cities and disrupt trade, travel and industry must change to avoid a ” economic stall”.

Research center Anbound gave no details on possible changes, but said President Xi Jinping’s government should focus on bolstering waning growth. He noted that the United States, Europe and Japan were recovering economically after easing anti-coronavirus restrictions.

“Preventing the risk of economic stalling should be the priority task,” the think tank said in a report titled “It’s time for China to adjust its virus control and prevention policies.”

Even such mild public disagreement with official policy is almost unheard of in a politically sensitive year when Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, is expected to try to extend his term.

The report, dated Sunday, was posted to the Anbound Research Center accounts on popular messaging platform WeChat and microblogging service Sina Weibo, but was deleted from both on Monday afternoon.

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Anti-Covid restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of a Communist Party meeting in October and November, during which Xi is likely to break with tradition and grant himself a third five-term term. years at the helm of the East Asian country.

Economists warn China must boost growth which fell to 2.5% year on year in the first half of 2022, less than half of the official annual target of 5.5%, after the shutdown Shanghai and other industrial centers from late March to fight outbreaks of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“China’s economy is at risk of stagnation” due to “the impact of epidemic prevention and control policies,” the think tank said.

The economy is also under pressure due to a slump in real estate activity after Beijing tightened controls on the industry’s use of debt.

Economists and public health experts have warned since mid-2021 that Covid zero, which aims to keep the virus out of China by isolating every case, is not sustainable. Officials respond that they have no alternative because letting the virus spread would overwhelm Chinese hospitals.

Zhang Wenhong, a doctor from Shanghai with 3 million social media followers, was shut down by official criticism and targeted by a plagiarism investigation in 2021 after he suggested that China’s strategy could change, and that the world “must learn to coexist with the virus”. .”

Founded in 1993, Anbound claims to have served the Communist Party’s Central Financial and Economic Leading Group and provided research to government agencies and financial institutions.

His report gave no indication as to whether it might represent the thinking of officials unhappy with the spiraling economic and human cost of Covid zero.

China’s policy has kept the number of deaths and infections low, but has led to a wave of business bankruptcies.

Reports say local governments are cutting utilities and civil servant salaries to pay for virus testing and anti-disease measures.

The economic impact of repeated business and neighborhood closures is more severe than last year, the think tank said. He added that the “freeze effect” could be even worse than when the outbreak started in early 2020, and the whole economy temporarily shut down.

Also on Monday, the southern city of Shenzhen, a technology and financial hub that borders Hong Kong, announced a three-day shutdown of some residential areas to contain an outbreak and shutter the world’s largest electronic market.

Meanwhile, the government of Shenyang, the most populous city in northeast China, this week postponed the start of in-person classes for elementary and middle school students.

China must “focus on economic recovery and gradually integrate into the world”, according to the Anbound report.

Travel restrictions prevent most foreign visitors from entering. The government has stopped replacing expiring passports and called on the public to avoid traveling abroad.

Washington last week canceled 26 Chinese airline flights to China from the United States in a dispute over Beijing’s virus checks. China previously forced US carriers to cancel the same number of flights after some passengers tested positive for the virus.

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