…Enodo economist untangles China’s zero-Covid U-turn on BBC Newsnight
Welcome back! After three years isolated behind Beijing’s strict zero-Covid regime, China finally reopened its doors on Sunday, January 8. Inbound travellers no longer face quarantine, and nor does anyone who contracts Covid inside the country.
The dismantling of controls will please investors and businesses everywhere, hearten a billion-plus people looking forward to this month’s lunar new year reunion (January 22) – and raise fears of a virus superspreader event like no other, with many millions returning home for the first time in the pandemic.
I began my (Gregorian) New Year with a trip to BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme, Newsnight. The January 6 edition focused on what Newsnight called “The Great Reopening”.
Host Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor, led a discussion of Xi Jinping’s unexpected and abrupt U-turn on Covid by Oxford University historian Rana Mitter, Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage and myself, chief economist at Enodo Economics.
It was a pleasure to return to Newsnight, where I have made several appearances over the years to offer views on major economic and political events. In September 2008, I joined a discussion of the global financial crisis after the US government decided to take into public ownership the two biggest mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Just a week later I was back on Newsnight the very night Lehman Brothers, Wall Street’s fourth biggest bank, collapsed amid the biggest meltdown since the depression.
Growing up in Bulgaria, still under Communist Party rule, I had little time for television news, where state anchors and party-approved guests had to accentuate the positive every day (in today’s China, broadcasters must still stick tightly to the propaganda line). I never imagined I would enjoy going on live television.
After working for many years in the UK and Hong Kong, I have come to relish the free exchange of views that underpins liberal democracy and market economics. That exchange should be robust and respectful – when another guest made a sexist remark towards me on an earlier Newsnight appearance, the BBC received many complaints.
I still get nervous on TV, but never as much as when I appeared opposite Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight’s toughest and longest-serving presenter, when several months pregnant! Just breathe deeply, I told myself. Don’t go into labour on national TV.
China is set to feature ever more frequently on news programmes, podcasts and assorted social media as Beijing resumes the drive for economic growth that has transformed the world since I first started analysing the country, back in 2000.
Untangling the China story and its impact on the rest of the world remains a tough but fascinating job and our team at Enodo is committed to fitting as many pieces of the puzzle together into a coherent picture.
Right now, as we hope China manages to minimise the human fallout of “living with Covid”, one of the biggest questions is what Beijing’s sudden policy switch does to Covid-19? As Dr Hanage said last week, “you’ll be seeing a billion rolls of the dice for the virus”.
Tune into our research to find out what comes next for China after zero-Covid and what this means for the global economy.