China's economic growth surged to 18.3% as activity revived

BEIJING (AP) — China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% over a year ago in the first quarter of 2021 after factory and consumer activity returned largely to normal following the coronavirus pandemic.

The figures reported Friday were magnified by comparison with early 2020, when the world’s second-largest economy fell into its deepest contraction in decades. The government noted growth in activity compared with the final quarter of 2020, when a recovery already had begun, was a more modest 0.6%.

Manufacturing, auto sales and other consumer activity have revived to above pre-pandemic levels since the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the coronavirus last March and allowed factories and stores to reopen.

The economy “delivered a stable performance with a consolidated foundation and good momentum of growth,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a report.

The outsize jump in the headline number was in line with expectations by forecasters due to the low basis for comparison in early 2020.

Some warn that despite China’s impressive recent performance, a recovery still is uncertain because global demand is weak as some governments reimpose anti-disease curbs that disrupt business and trade.

The economy shrank by 6.8% in the first quarter of last year as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of closing most factories, shops and offices to fight the outbreak that started in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. It was China’s worst performance since at least the mid-1960s.

Growth recovered to 6.5% over a year earlier in the final quarter following the economy’s relatively early reopening while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with renewed disease outbreaks. China eked out full-year growth of 2.3%, becoming the only major economy to expand in 2020.

Retail spending surged 33.9% in the first quarter over a year earlier, while factory output rose 24.5%, according to the NBS. Investment in real estate, factories and other fixed assets rose 25.6%.

Chinese exports have benefited from demand for masks and other medical supplies while foreign competitors still face anti-virus restrictions. Forecasters say that boost will pass as sales of medical supplies decline and other economies reopen.