China Is Trying to Make Its Gloomy Consumers Spend More

The government also promised to make it easier for people to sell and register used cars. But easing the obstacles to transferring car ownership could prompt more people to see inexpensive used cars as alternatives to new ones, adding fuel to a price discounting war for new cars already underway in the Chinese car industry, said Tu Le, the managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a Beijing consulting firm.

Some of the policies that were announced Monday are also not new. The planning agency, for example, called for adding elevators to older apartment buildings — a national program that former Premier Li Keqiang proposed in a speech in May 2020, which is already well underway.

Surveys of consumer confidence, among the best barometers of households’ willingness to spend, plummeted during a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s most populous city, in the spring of 2022. Confidence barely began to recover in the early months of this year, even after the central government lifted lockdowns nationwide in early December.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics has responded to the weak data by halting the public release of any monthly readings of consumer confidence past March, discontinuing a series that it launched 33 years ago.

China’s approach to stimulating consumer spending differs considerably from the tactics embraced by the United States and other advanced economies during the pandemic: sending checks to consumers. That approach produced soaring trade deficits in the West, as households spent heavily on manufactured goods imported from China, like consumer electronics or exercise equipment.

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