China’s economy grew more than expected last year, even as the rest of the world was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
The world’s second largest economy expanded 2.3% in 2020 compared to a year earlier, according to government statistics released Monday.
It’s China’s slowest annual growth rate in decades — not since 1976 has the country had a worse year, when GDP shrunk 1.6% during a time of social and economic tumult.
The expansion also beat expectations. The International Monetary Fund predicted that China’s economy would grow 1.9% in 2020. It’s the only major world economy the IMF expected to grow at all.
“The performance was better than we had expected,” said Ning Jizhe, a spokesman for China’s National Bureau of Statistics, at a press conference in Beijing.
The country scrapped its growth target last year for the first time in decades as the pandemic dealt a historic blow to the economy. GDP shrank nearly 7% in the first quarter as large swaths of the country were placed on lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.
Since then, though, the government has attempted to spur growth through major infrastructure projects and by offering cash handouts to stimulate spending among citizens.
Industrial production was a particularly big driver of growth, jumping 7.3% in December from a year earlier.
Trade has also been strong. China’s overall surplus for the year hit a record $535 billion, up 27% from 2019, according to statistics released last Friday. Analysts pointed out that the country benefited from a lot of demand for protective gear and electronics as people around the world worked from home.
But retail sales lost a little steam in December, rising 4.6% compared to November’s 5%. For the entire year, retail sales slumped 3.9%. Ning, the National Bureau of Statistics spokesperson, blamed the waning sales on a resurgence of coronavirus in some places.
The “sporadic” cases in China “will bring uncertainty to [our] economic recovery,” he added.