BEIJING– A Chinese think tank issued a rare public disagreement Monday with the ruling Communist Party’s harsh “zero COVID” policy, saying restrictions that lock down cities and disrupt trade, travel and industry must change to avoid a “gridlock.” economic”.
The Anbound Research Center did not elaborate on the possible changes, but said President Xi Jinping’s government must focus on shoring up sinking growth. He noted that the United States, Europe and Japan are recovering economically after easing restrictions against diseases.
“Preventing the risk of economic stagnation should be the priority task,” the think tank said in a report titled “It is time for China to adjust its virus prevention and control policies.”
Even such mild public disagreement with official policy is almost unheard of in a politically sensitive year in which Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, is expected to try to extend his rule.
The report, dated Sunday, was published on the Anbound Research Center’s accounts on the popular messaging platform WeChat and on the Sina Weibo microblogging service, but was removed from both on Monday afternoon.
Antivirus restrictions are widely expected to remain in place at least until after a Communist Party meeting in October and November at which Xi is likely to break with tradition and give himself a third five-year term as leader.
Economists warn that China needs to boost growth that fell to 2.5% from a year earlier in the first half of 2022, less than half the official annual target of 5.5%, after Shanghai and other industrial centers will close from the end of March to combat the virus. buds
“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 from a drop 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 “zero COVID,” which aims to keep the virus out of China by isolating every case, is unsustainable. Officials counter that they have no choice because letting the virus spread would overwhelm Chinese hospitals.
A Shanghai doctor with 3 million social media followers, Zhang Wenhong, was shut down by official criticism and the subject of a plagiarism investigation in 2021 after suggesting China’s strategy could change and the world “needs to learn to coexist.” with the virus.”
Anbound, founded in 1993, says it has served the Communist Party’s Central Economic and Financial Leadership 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 who are unhappy with the rising economic and human cost of “zero COVID.”
China’s policy has kept death and infection numbers low, but has sparked a wave of business bankruptcies.
News reports say that local governments are cutting public services and civil servants’ 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 said the “freezing effect” could be even worse than when the outbreak started in 2020 and the entire economy was temporarily shut down.
On Monday, the southern city of Shenzhen, a technology and finance hub that borders Hong Kong, announced a three-day lockdown of some residential areas to contain an outbreak and shut down the world’s largest electronics market.
Also on Monday, the government of Shenyang, the northeast’s most populous city, postponed the start of in-person classes this week for primary and secondary school students.
China needs to “focus on economic recovery and gradually integrate with the world,” the Anbound report said.
Travel curbs keep most foreign visitors out. The government has stopped replacing expired passports and has called on citizens to avoid going abroad.
Last week, the US government canceled 26 Chinese airline flights to China from the United States in a dispute over Beijing’s anti-virus checks. China earlier forced US airlines to cancel the same number of flights after some passengers tested positive for the virus.