As the seven-day Spring Festival holiday ended on Friday, millions of Chinese packed into train stations, airports and bus terminals with large wheeled suitcases and bags stuffed with food and gifts. For many of them who had relived the travel rush and returned home from family reunion, a brand-new day of work was waiting ahead.
That same day, several freight trains loaded with electronic products, mechanical parts, daily necessities and clothing departed from cities across China for Poland, Germany and other European countries. The trip hardly differed from the past, given how these trains had played a similarly critical role in the past three years in helping stabilize the international supply chain.
For the last three years, China has been pursuing a delicate balance of fostering economic activity and maintaining public health. It never stopped opening up to the larger world. This is why the country remains an important engine for global economic growth even amid unprecedented challenges.
Against the current
Over the past three years, the pandemic pummeled global economic output. However, with the dynamic adjustment of its COVID control measures and timely introduction of pro-growth policies, the Chinese economy has proven its resilience. Its long-term fundamentals remain positive.
In 2020, China's economy exceeded 100 trillion yuan ($14.8 trillion) for the first time, making it the first and only major economy in the world to achieve positive economic growth despite the pandemic. In 2021, China's GDP further expanded to over 114 trillion yuan, up 8.4 percent year-on-year, and accounted for more than 18 percent of the global economy. It reached another record high in 2022, rising above 121 trillion yuan.
Data showed that from 2020 to 2022, the Chinese economy posted annual average growth of 4.5 percent, outpacing the world average of 1.8 percent and higher than those of other major economies.
In the meantime, China has maintained a sound social environment, demonstrated by a stable job market, food and energy security, and improved living standards.
A total of 11.86 million, 12.69 million, and 12.06 million new urban jobs were created in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively, all surpassing the targets set for each year. The Chinese people became more affluent in 2022, with per capita disposable income reaching 36,883 yuan ($5,463), up 5 percent year-on-year in nominal terms.
Against the backdrop of surging inflation in many parts of the world, China has been able to keep its consumer prices steady all the way through, with its three-year average increase in CPI remaining at 1.8 percent, a fraction of the increases reported in developed economies and lower than those of other emerging economies.
"When most economies went into recession, China became one of the handfuls that registered positive economic growth," said Cavince Adhere, a Kenya-based international relations scholar.
"China has always been very impressive in dealing with challenges," Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef has told Xinhua.
The pandemic did not slow China's pace to open wider to the world as it seeks common development across the globe.
World Bank data showed that in the 2013-2021 period, China's contribution to global economic growth averaged 38.6 percent, exceeding the combined contribution of the Group of Seven countries.
Over the past three years, China has provided over 2.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to more than 120 countries and international organizations, and batches of protective suits, ventilators, masks and other supplies to 153 countries and 15 international organizations.
As a stabilizer in the global supply chain, China-Europe freight trains made 12,400 trips, carrying more than 1.13 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of goods in 2020. In 2022, these figures climbed further to 16,000 trips and 1.6 million TEUs.
At the fifth edition of the China International Import Expo held last year, $73.52 billion worth of tentative deals were reached for one-year purchases of goods and services, up 3.9 percent yearly.
From 2020 to 2022, China has rolled out a series of policies to unleash trade vitality and bolster foreign trade. Specifically, authorities have sought to ramp up financial and fiscal support to foreign trade firms, increase export tax rebates, explore new markets, stabilize industry chains and smoothen logistics.
And all those packages of measures have yielded inspiring results. China's annual foreign trade hit a record high again in 2022, as total goods trade reached 42.07 trillion yuan ($6.23 trillion), up 7.7 percent yearly, topping the world for six consecutive years.
China has become a significant trading partner for more than 140 countries and regions. In particular, its imports and exports with ASEAN, the EU and the United States gained 15 percent, 5.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, in 2022. Trade with Belt and Road countries climbed 19.4 percent to account for 32.9 percent of its total foreign trade, while trade with other members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership rose 7.5 percent.
"China's drive towards common prosperity will hold valuable lessons not only for developing countries but for developed countries too," said Keith Bennett, a long-term China specialist and vice chair of Britain's 48 Group Club.
"China's stable economic development and wider opening-up are of great significance to the global economic recovery," said Wichai Kinchong Choi, senior vice-president of the leading Thai Kasikornbank.
Following a new round of policy shifts concerning COVID-19 prevention and control, Chinese society has been reinvigorated. During the three-day New Year holiday, the country recorded roughly 52.7 million domestic tourist visits, up 0.44 percent year-on-year. Tourism revenue generated over the holiday reached over 26.5 billion yuan ($3.9 billion), up 4 percent from the same period last year.
The following Spring Festival holiday has been even more encouraging. Official statistics showed about 308 million domestic trips were made in China during the holiday, up 23.1 percent year-on-year. The holiday box office sold more than 187.6 million tickets as of noon (1600 GMT) Friday, generating a whopping revenue of 6.76 billion yuan ($988 million).
A consumption recovery is also underway, with sales of food, beverages and clothing rising month-on-month in the first half of January at key retailers. Booking rates rebounded to over 80 percent in some hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Shanghai and Yunnan, according to an analysis published by multinational financial services company Societe Generale on Thursday.
Such numbers and the assurance that China will pursue economic stability and expand domestic demand have given foreign investors and observers much confidence in the Chinese economy.
Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have raised China's GDP growth forecast for 2023 to more than 5 percent.
In recent decades, China has evolved into a global economic leader in consumption, trade and investment, according to a recent UBS report.
"As a result, the country has played a meaningful role as a global growth engine -- not only benefiting Chinese companies and its people, but many other developing and developed markets," it added.
"All fundamentals are in place" in China for continued economic growth over the next 20 years, BHP Group CEO Mike Henry said in late November, adding that "obviously, China is going to provide a bit of stability to global growth over the next year."
In 2023, China "can play a very important role in stimulating" global growth, said Hamid Rashid, chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch, Economic Analysis and Policy Division, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
"We are very confident in the Chinese economy and the strength of the leadership and the government and the people of China," said Haitham Al Ghais, secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.