China’s economy grew last year at the second slowest rate in almost half a century – in a sign of how the country’s strict coronavirus regulations have affected businesses.
Official figures show gross domestic product (GDP) in the world’s second largest economy rose by 3% in 2022.
That is way below the government’s target of 5.5% but better than most economists had forecast.
Last month Beijing abruptly lifted its strict zero-Covid policy.
The policy had a major impact on the country’s economic activity last year but the sudden relaxation of the rules has led to a jump in Covid cases that threatens to also drag on growth in the early part of this year.
Other than at the start of the pandemic in 2020, when full-year GDP expanded by 2.2%, last year’s economic growth was the weakest since 1976, when the founder of the People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong died.
“The data came in stronger than our expectation. Nevertheless, it reveals the hard hit to the Chinese economy from a zero-Covid policy and a property rout in 2022,” Jacqueline Rong, deputy China economist from the BNP Paribas bank, told the BBC.
Experts have voiced caution over China’s economic numbers – with some warning that the trajectory of the data rather than the figures themselves are a useful guide to how the country’s economy is performing.
Other Chinese economic data such as retail sales and factory output for December, which were released along with GDP data, also beat expectations but were still weak compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“That is not bad news for the economy. It almost feels like household consumption held up well in spite of the surge of infections towards the end of last year,” Qian Wang from the Vanguard investment firm said.
“We are heading into 2023 with stronger momentum… this will pose a lot of upside to economic growth,” she added.
Economists have warned over the state of the global economy in recent months, pointing to several issues having an impact on growth.
Last week, the World Bank said that the global economy is “perilously close to falling into recession“.
The organisation’s latest forecast blamed a number of factors stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact of the pandemic.
It said the US, the eurozone and China – the three most influential parts of the world for economic growth – were “all undergoing a period of pronounced weakness”, a downturn that was worsening the problems faced by poorer countries.
GDP is a measure – or an attempt to measure – all the activity of the government, companies and individuals in a country.
It helps businesses to judge when to expand and hire more people, and governments to work out how much to tax and spend.
On Monday, data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed that prices of new homes declined for the fifth straight month in December.
Prices in the final month of 2022 fell by 0.2% from a month earlier as Covid-19 outbreaks across the country hurt demand.
Last week, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva urged Beijing to continue reopening its economy.
“What is most important is for China to stay the course, not to back off from that reopening,” Ms Georgieva said.
“If they stay the course, by mid-year or there around, China will turn into a positive contributor to average global growth,” she added.
Yating Xu, principal economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, told the BBC that she has seen signs of a gradual recovery in Chinese consumer activity since its reopening.
“The government’s increasing pro-growth stance and the economic recovery entering 2023 reduces the likelihood of a pandemic-policy reversal,” she said.
“However, the full reopening of mainland China’s borders is likely to be delayed until international restrictions against China-originated travel are dropped,” she added.