China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from virus gains

Joe McDonald
Associated Press

Beijing  — China’s economy grew 2.3% in 2020 as a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic accelerated while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with disease flare-ups.

Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5% over a year earlier, up from the previous quarter’s 4.9%, official data showed Monday.

In early 2020, activity contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of shutting down its economy to fight the virus. The following quarter, China became the first major country to grow again with a 3.2% expansion after the party declared victory over the virus in March and allowed factories, shops and offices to reopen.

Women eating snack walk by a Chanel cosmetic shop at the capital city's popular shopping mall in Beijing. China's economy grew 2.3% in 2020 as a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic accelerated while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with disease flare-ups. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

The economy “recovered steadily” and “living standards were ensured forcefully,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. It said the ruling party's development goals were “accomplished better than expectation” but gave no details.

2020 was China’s weakest growth in decades and below the previous recent low of 3.9% in 1990 following the crackdown on a pro-democracy movement. But it was well ahead of the United States and other major economies. They have yet to report 2020 growth but all are on track to show full-year activity contracting before vaccines are rolled out and commerce returns to normal.

China has re-imposed travel controls in some areas after a spate of cases this month but most of the country is unaffected.

Growth was aided by global demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical supplies. Exports rose 3.6% last year despite a tariff war with Washington. Exporters took market share from foreign competitors that still faced anti-virus restrictions.

The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8%.

Retail spending contracted by 3.9% over 2019 but gained 4.6% in December over a year earlier as demand revived. Consumer spending recovered to above the previous year’s levels in the quarter ending in September.

Online sales of consumer goods rose 14.8% as millions of families who were ordered to stay home shifted to buying groceries and clothing online.

Factory output rose 2.8% over 2019. Earlier data showed activity accelerating toward the end of the year. Production rose 7.3% in December.