Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.
I. Battling the Virus
On Saturday, Chinese health officials reported a total death toll of 2,835, with the number of confirmed cases at 79,251. There were 427 new cases reported in China on Saturday according to official data. NYT’s mapping of data shows that the outbreak has sickened more than 85,100 people, according to official counts. So far, cases have been reported in 57 countries. Over this week, there’s been a massive spike in cases in Japan, Italy, South Korea and Iran, with an increasing worry that this is developing into a pandemic. The World Health Organization has raised its global risk assessment for the outbreak from “high” to “very high,” while warning that hospitals even in developed countries might not be ready to handle the situation.
One interesting point to note on the spike in cases internationally, while a slowdown in new cases in China. WSJ reports: “A number of Chinese municipal governments are imposing stricter health screenings on people entering China and, in some cases, even quarantine measures on those arriving from coronavirus-afflicted countries. These controls come after Beijing waged a concerted campaign urging other governments not to impose restrictions on travel to and from China, saying such measures were out of line with World Health Organization guidance.”
Meanwhile, there were two key meetings that Xi chaired this week, although the NPC and CPPCC meetings have been postponed without a definite date decided as of now. Xi’s first big meeting was on Sunday and then on Wednesday. On Sunday, Xi chaired a meeting that entailed a teleconference with some 170,000 cadres. In his speech, he called for “unremitting efforts in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic and coordination in advancing economic and social development.” He termed the epidemic situation “grim and complex,” calling the crisis a “major test” for the Party.
Here’s Xinhua’s coverage of what Xi said: “This is both a crisis and a big test for us,’. Xi said, adding that after arduous work, the positive trend in the prevention and control work is now expanding. ‘It has been proven that the CPC Central Committee’s judgment on the situation of the epidemic is accurate, all work arrangements are timely, and the measures taken are effective,’ said Xi. ‘The results of the prevention and control work have once again demonstrated the notable advantages of the leadership of the CPC and the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Following this, on Wednesday, Xi chaired a PSC meeting. Here he said: “the positive trend in preventing and controlling the epidemic is expanding and economic and social development is rapidly recovering, but the situation in Hubei Province and its capital city of Wuhan remains complex and grim, and the risk of a rebound of the epidemic in other regions can not be overlooked.” What was also significant was that he highlighted the need to focus on poverty alleviation, while ensuring outbreak prevention. Another noteworthy point is the need to focus on “prevention and control work in Beijing and other key provincial-level regions.” This is interesting, given that there are reports of cases in Beijing, and with migrant workers returning, the threat of spread remains high. Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at China CDC, told Global Times this week that “Epidemic control work in Beijing is most critical. Although the current situation in the capital is not as severe as in Hubei, by referencing the measures taken there, the steps taken in Beijing are much more decisive than in other cities.”
Meanwhile, on the economic front, the PMI data was released this week. China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slowed to 35.7, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday. China’s non-manufacturing PMI – a gauge of sentiment in the services and construction sectors – also dropped, to 29.6 from 54.1 in January. This was also the lowest on record, below the previous low of 49.7 in November 2011, according to the NBS. The composite PMI, which combines the manufacturing and services indices, dropped to 28.9 from 53.0 in January. Some other key data points: The production subindex of the purchasing managers index plunged to 27.8 from 51.3 in January. The new-export-orders subindex, a gauge of external demand, dropped to 28.7 in February from 48.7 in January. A component of the index measuring imports fell to 31.9 from January’s 49. One of the biggest obstacles to restarting production is finding enough workers to return to factories. The employment component of the index, which measures the staffing situation, decreased to 31.8 in February from 47.5 during the previous month.
Quick thought: This number will pick up next month; and I guess that will be claimed as a win for the system. Meanwhile, Xinhua reports that the State Council on Tuesday unveiled a string of measures to facilitate the employment of college graduates and rural migrant workers, offer financial support to micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises and solve the difficulties of self-employed persons.
Finally, on Party-state media coverage and the propaganda at work, here are two pieces that I’d recommend. The first is by David Bandurski for China Media Project and the second is this essay by Xu Zhiyong, a prominent rights activist who was detained on February 15.