Tourists take photos at the Bund area of Shanghai. [Photo by Wang Gang/For China Daily]
More policy measures to expand domestic demand are necessary to solidify China's economic recovery that has picked up steam in December, as signs are emerging that exports and the employment situation could sour, experts said on Tuesday.
Zhang Bin, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of World Economics and Politics, said it is necessary for China to roll out a basket of policies to effectively boost domestic demand and counter the economic downward pressure posed by a lackluster property sector and a potential slowdown in export growth.
China's export growth, though expected to maintain some resiliency, may nevertheless decelerate this year as overseas demand softens amid the tapering of stimulus packages in major economies, underlining the necessity to bolster domestic demand in China, Zhang said.
"It is sensible for China's central bank to reduce policy interest rates as soon as possible to boost market demand for investment and consumption," he said, adding that fiscal policy should become more proactive in spurring infrastructure investment.
Such measures will be key to helping the Chinese economy achieve a reasonable economic growth of about 5.5 percent this year－a necessary level to sustain a stable employment situation, Zhang added.
The comments came after economic indicators for December showed that China's economy may have gained a firmer footing as manufacturing activity accelerated. But contraction in export orders and staff levels within the sector added a note of caution.
Specifically, the Caixin China General Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, a privately surveyed gauge of manufacturing activity, rose to a half-year high of 50.9 in December, versus 49.9 in November, indicating renewed growth momentum of the sector amid rising production and sales levels.
A PMI reading above 50 indicates expansion, while one below signals contraction.
However, the survey, released by Caixin media group on Tuesday, showed that the sector's workforce fell for the fifth month in a row in December at the fastest rate since February 2021, with company respondents citing that they were not particularly enthusiastic to fill vacancies left by staff resignations or retirements.
The sub-gauge for new export orders stayed in contraction territory for the fifth consecutive month as well, due to a worsened overseas COVID-19 situation, rising shipping costs and a shortage of containers, according to the survey.
Official data provides similar hints. The official PMI of the manufacturing sector rose to 50.3 in December from 50.1 a month earlier thanks to abating raw material cost pressure and improving market demand, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday.
Yet the sector continued to see a contraction in new export orders and employment last month, the bureau said.
"Overall, conditions of the manufacturing sector brightened in December as supply and demand improved while inflationary pressure eased," said Wang Zhe, senior economist at Caixin Insight Group.
"But the job market was still under pressure and businesses were less optimistic, indicating unstable economic recovery. COVID-19 and overseas demand remain the unstable factors," Wang said.
Policymakers, therefore, are expected to take stabilizing the economy as a key priority this year, Wang said, adding that policy focus should be given to bolstering employment and amplifying targeted support for small and medium-sized enterprises.