BEIJING: The World Bank has sharply slashed its annual growth forecast for China, warning in a report last week that Covid-19 disruptions could further slow recovery in the world’s second-largest economy.
China is the last major economy that adheres to a zero-Covid policy, using rapid lockdowns, mass testing and strict movement restrictions to eliminate outbreaks. But this has tangled supply chains and dragged economic indicators to their lowest levels in about two years.
Growth in China is projected to slow to 4.3 percent in 2022, the Washington, D.C.-based global financial institution said in a report on June 8, marking a steep 0.8 percentage-point drop from its December forecast.
This “largely reflects the economic damage caused by Omicron outbreaks and the prolonged lockdowns in parts of China from March to May,” it said, referring to the highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus.
During those months, restrictions on dozens of cities, including the manufacturing hubs of Shenzhen and Shanghai, as well as the breadbasket province of Jilin, battered business operations and kept consumers at home.
“In the short term, China faces the dual challenge of balancing Covid-19 mitigation with supporting economic growth,” said Martin Raiser, World Bank country director for China, Mongolia and Korea.
“The dilemma…is how to make the policy stimulus effective, as long as mobility restrictions persist,” he added.
Activity is expected to rebound in the latter half of 2022, helped by fiscal stimulus and more easing of housing rules, according to the lender.
But domestic demand is likely to recover gradually and only partly offset the earlier pandemic-related damage, it said.
The World Bank’s forecast adjustment came as concerns grow that China may not meet its official growth target of about 5.5 percent this year.
Premier Li Keqiang has warned that the challenges today are in some ways “greater than when the pandemic hit” in March 2020, and the government has rolled out a series of measures to try and jump-start the economy.
The Chinese government has also launched a major infrastructure push this year, but the World Bank warned this was a precarious path.
“There is a danger that China remains tied to the old playbook of boosting growth through debt-financed infrastructure and real estate investment,” it said on June 8.
“Such a growth model is ultimately unsustainable and the indebtedness of many corporates and local governments is already too high,” it added.
The latest forecast also assumed that China’s zero-Covid policy would be “maintained in the short term to avoid stressing its health care system,” which means recurrent disruptions are possible.