After its first reporting in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, COVID-19 spread quickly across the world. COVID-19’s impact on China was initially pronounced as the government struggled to contain the outbreak, suppressing whistleblowers and drawing criticism from the international community. But, Beijing’s ability to reverse its early failures has impressed analysts, showcasing the strength of China’s response system.
On January 23, 2020, Beijing imposed strict lockdown measures in Wuhan. For 76 days, the city remained in quarantine, and the lockdown eventually expanded to include large swaths of the country. Although some experts greeted these efforts with skepticism, the world eventually enacted similar lockdowns.
However, few lockdowns were able to match the aggressiveness of China. In the United States, lockdowns were met with skepticism and protest, allowing the virus to rage through the country unhindered. But, on the other side of the Pacific, COVID-19’s impact on China was effectively curtailed. Despite the virus originating from Wuhan, China recorded no official daily deaths for multiple months in 2020.
Yet, experts remained doubtful of China’s COVID-19 performance. The CIA questioned the validity of Chinese COVID-19 statistics, seeing the data as a vast undercount of the actual total. But, the issue of undercounting was widespread outside of China as well, presenting itself in countries all over the world. Despite discrepancies in the official counts, a general narrative had taken shape by the end of 2020 that China successfully contained COVID-19.
COVID-19’s Economic Impact
The COVID-19 lockdown slowed the virus around the world but created new issues. Businesses shuttered, and the economy contracted without consumer spending. As a result, the world found itself in the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. China was hardly immune to these economic impacts. Output took a historic blow during the first few months of 2020, adding to Beijing’s larger concerns about its economic health. Despite its position as the world’s second-largest economy, China faces major obstacles to growth, from an aging population to ballooning levels of debt. COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated these pressures, with the potential to curtail China’s decades of growth.
Positive Economic Growth in China
The speedy enactment of lockdowns allowed Beijing to repudiate its critics once again. While other great powers, including the United States, saw their economies contract, China was the “only major economy” in 2020 to register positive GDP growth. Far from leading to broader economic collapse, COVID-19’s impact on China appears to be a net positive geopolitically, accelerating the shift in power from the West to the East. China’s economy is now slated to be the world’s largest economy by the end of 2028, five years ahead of schedule.
China’s continued efforts to combat extreme poverty are notable. Before COVID-19, the government had laid out an ambitious pledge to completely eliminate extreme poverty, defined as $600 or less in yearly per capita income, by 2020. In 2019, decades of sustained economic growth led to less than 1% of Chinese people living in extreme poverty.
COVID-19 threatened to derail poverty reduction plans. But, instead of adversely impacting China’s stated objective, the rapid lockdowns engineered by Beijing allowed for a fast economic recovery and the completion of the original objective. By the end of 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping proudly reported that the country had officially eliminated extreme poverty.
COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts
China initially lagged in the area of COVID-19 vaccinations. Pharmaceutical companies in the United States pushed out highly effective COVID-19 vaccines in record-breaking time, quickly inoculating sizable swaths of the population. With this aggressive drive, a return to normal reopening seemed to be within reach.
China initially encountered struggles in vaccinating the population. Its early vaccination program was slow and vaccine hesitancy presented a barrier to inoculation. However, this changed recently as China’s state apparatus manufactured hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations for rapid distribution. Now, China is taking the lead in vaccinations as the U.S. lags behind. To date, China has administered more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses.
This does not mean that China is out of the woods though. The efficacy of Beijing’s vaccines compare poorly to other vaccines, and many nations that received Chinese vaccines have still seen COVID-19 cases skyrocket. Nonetheless, China’s vaccine efforts are certainly commendable.
As the only economy with positive economic growth in 2020, China’s efforts to curb COVID-19 have proven effective. Aside from its COVID-19 response, China’s efforts to combat poverty have also positively contributed to increased prosperity and stability within the nation.
– Zachary Lee