He began gaining traction last month when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang – China’s second highest official since President Xi Jinping – praised the city of Chengdu to create 100,000 jobs at night, creating tens of thousands of benches on the street, which usually sell food, fresh vegetables, clothes and toys.
The impetus for technology
The idea of sellers flooding the streets of high-tech metropolises such as Shanghai and Shenzhen has sparked controversy in China in part because Beijing has spent years cultivating the country’s image as an advanced global superpower. Xi The Made in China 2025 policy signature project has pushed the country to compete with the United States for its influence through billions of dollars worth of investment in future technologies.
“The hawk on the street is something Xi doesn’t like, as it tarnishes the image of the successful and beautiful China he likes to project,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. of London.
In recent weeks, Xi itself has reiterated its long-standing push for high-tech solutions to China’s economic woes. It recently called on the country to invest in 5G networks and next-generation satellites as part of a plan to boost economic growth and employment.
A harsh political reality
Besides, he said, it may not be as effective as it once was for Beijing to develop large, expensive infrastructure projects as a way to tackle its financial problems.
China’s response to its latest major economic shock – the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 – has included large investments in highways, airports and high-speed rail lines. This time, this stimulus line is already saturated.
The recent economic crisis has also left China in debt, making it important for the country to focus on private consumption this time around, Zhu added.
Tang Min, a Chinese government adviser, recently told reporters in Beijing that the hawk on the streets will not only create jobs, but will also address the public’s concern about the number of indoor spaces amid the ongoing pandemic.
“But it can’t replace the ‘normal’ economy – what can be sold or bought on the streets is very limited,” Tang said. “The government cannot let it be controlled – it must be regulated as we continue to experiment and explore this option.”
During his annual political meeting in May, Lee was blunt about China’s problems and the extent to which some people may not be able to participate in the country’s high-tech future. About 600 million Chinese – about 40% of the population – earn an average of just 1,000 yuan ($ 141) a month.
“Lee tries to tackle pressing issues with … a realistic approach” said Willy Lam, an associate professor at the Chinese Studies Center in Hong Kong, China. While the sales approach may not be perfect, he said, there may not be a better alternative to creating multiple jobs in a short period of time.
“Employment is an extremely important issue that can cause political unrest … Lee seems to be worried about the devastating effects of mass job losses.”
Chang, director of the SOAS China Institute, said Lee was probably just trying to do his job by overseeing the country’s key economic policies.
“The pandemic has allowed him to play a more important role than the prime minister in managing the economy, something he has been watching most of the Xi era,” Chang said. “He saw how the financial impact of Covid-19 would require a realistic and more emphatic approach, allowing even encouraging street sales for those fired as a result of the pandemic.”
Local governments are moving forward
The public debate over the push for street vendors in China has weakened in recent days as big cities – including Beijing and Shenzhen – make it clear that politics is not welcome there.
“Street benches won’t really disappear completely,” said Lam, a professor at Hong Kong University in China. He expects local governments to move the plan forward, as long as unemployment remains a top concern.