China’s economy expanded 3.2 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, officials said on Thursday. The recovery is a sign, with caveats, of the authoritarian government’s success in bringing the outbreak under control with widespread testing and travel restrictions.
By contrast, economies in Europe and the United States are still languishing as the pandemic forces cities to shut down and shoppers to stay home.
China’s growth from April through June is an abrupt turnaround from first quarter, when its economy shrank 6.8 percent, the first contraction that the government has acknowledged in nearly half a century.
The new figures partly reflect the restrictions that China imposed after its early missteps delayed the response to the outbreak and fed public anger, as well as the government’s continued reliance on infrastructure spending instead of domestic consumption.
But all the recent spending on highways and rail lines raises questions about whether China’s economic turnaround is sustainable and whether it can become the engine needed to drive the global economy out of a slump.
Factories in China are already cranking out furniture, consumer electronics and mass-market cars more quickly than consumers at home or abroad want to buy them.
“It looks like there is still a mismatch there — people are not consuming as much as previously,” said Sara Hsu, a visiting scholar in economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Sales of groceries and other essentials have stayed strong in China throughout the pandemic, but people’s willingness to spend money on restaurant meals and other nonessential goods and services has still not fully bounced back. Tens of millions of Chinese, particularly young people, also remain out of work, and the slowdown caused by the pandemic has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
Asian stocks were down on Thursday after China released its economic data. Chinese equities fell about 1.5 percept, and markets slipped in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.
The official China Film Administration also said in a notice on Thursday that movie theaters in the Chinese mainland would gradually reopen starting next Monday. Bookings will be limited, and theaters will be regularly disinfected, the notice said.