Commentary: Zero-COVID lockdowns throw China’s political preparations into turmoil

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Li Qiang is, or perhaps was, in a strong position for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee. He is of the right age, at 63 well below the retirement cut-off – and a strong ally to Xi Jinping, having worked closely when Xi was party secretary of Zhejiang province in the early 2000s. 

He took over as the top party official in Shanghai when his predecessor was moved up to the Standing Committee in 2017. But now there is less certainty about Li Qiang’s promotion if the lockdown makes him appear to be more of a liability than an asset to Xi.

Similarly, Shanghai’s mayor, Gong Zheng, who was expected to assume Li Qiang’s position thereafter, is also now in doubt

Even if Shanghai may not be enough to deter Xi from elevating Li Qiang to the highest echelon of Chinese politics, the timing could not be worse for Xi.

UNCERTAINTY AROUND CHINA’S ECONOMIC GROWTH 

But Shanghai is only one sign of China’s larger zero-COVID woes. More than 208 million people in 26 cities are estimated to be under some form of lockdown or COVID-19 restrictions as of May 23, accounting for 20.5 per cent of China’s economic output.

A strict lockdown in Shanghai alone was earlier estimated to reduce China’s real GDP by 4 per cent, according to a Chinese University of Hong Kong study.

The city recently reported that April saw the biggest monthly decline in industrial output since 2011. Not a single car was sold in Shanghai in April, according to the Shanghai Automobile Sales Association. In 2021, the same month saw 26,311 vehicles sold.

Economic data suggests harder times ahead for China. Although the economy will likely rebound as zero-COVID restrictions are eased, millions of workers, including new graduates, may struggle to find work. 

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