It began to gain strength last month when Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, the second-highest-ranking official in China after President Xi Jinping, praised the city of Chengdu. for creating 100,000 jobs overnight by installing tens of thousands of street stalls, which typically sell food, fresh vegetables, clothing and toys.
The push for technology
The idea of vendors flooding the streets of high-tech metropolises like Shanghai and Shenzhen caused controversy in China, in part because Beijing has spent years cultivating the country’s image as an advanced global superpower. Xi The draft signature policy, “Made in China 2025,” has pushed the country to compete with the United States for influence through billions of dollars in investments in the technologies of the future.
“Street vending is something that Xi does not like as it tarnishes the image of the successful and beautiful China that he likes to project,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London.
Xi himself in recent weeks has reiterated his longstanding push for high-tech solutions to China’s economic problems. It has recently asked the country to invest in 5G networks and next-generation satellites as part of a plan to boost economic growth and jobs.
A harsh political reality
Furthermore, he said, it may not be as effective as it was before Beijing implemented large and expensive infrastructure projects as a way to address its economic problems.
China’s response to its latest major economic shock, the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, involved heavy investment in high-speed roads, airports, and rail lines. This time, that stimulus line has already been saturated.
The latest financial crisis also left China in deep debt, making it important for the country to focus this time on private consumption, Zhu added.
Tang Min, an adviser to the Chinese government, recently told reporters in Beijing that the hawkering would not only create jobs but also address public concern about overcrowding in the interior amid the ongoing pandemic.
“But it cannot replace the ‘regular’ economy: what can be sold or bought on the streets is very limited,” Tang said. “The government cannot let it grow out of control, it has to be regulated as we continue to experiment and explore this option.”
During May’s annual political meeting, Li was frank about China’s problems and the extent to which some people may not be able to participate in the country’s high-tech future. Some 600 million Chinese, about 40% of the population, earn an average of only 1,000 yuan ($ 141) per month.
“Li is trying to tackle pressing problems with a … realistic approach” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the China Studies Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. While the street vendor approach may not be perfect, he said, there may not be a better alternative for creating many jobs in a short period of time.
“Employment is an extremely important issue that can trigger political turmoil … Li appears to be concerned about the disastrous result of the massive job loss.”
Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, said Li is likely only trying to do his job of overseeing the country’s key economic policies.
“The pandemic had resulted in him being allowed to play more of the prime minister’s well-established role in managing the economy, something that deviated most of the time in the Xi era,” said Tsang. “He saw how the economic impact of Covid-19 would require a pragmatic and more emphatic approach, thus allowing, even encouraging, street vending for those laid off as a result of the pandemic.”
Local governments keep going
Public discussion of Li’s push for street vendors in China has waned in recent days as major cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen, make it clear that politics is not welcome there.
“The street stalls will not totally disappear in reality,” said Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He hoped that local governments would go ahead with the plan as long as unemployment remains a top concern.