It began to gain traction last month when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang – China’s second-highest-ranking official after President Xi Jinping – praised the city of Chengdu to create 100,000 jobs overnight by setting up tens of thousands of street stalls that typically sell food, fresh vegetables, clothing and toys.
The pressure on them
The idea of suppliers 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. Shea The signature policy project, “Made in China 2025,” has pushed the country to compete with the United States for influence through billions of dollars of investment in the technologies of the future.
“Street hawking is something Xi doesn’t like because it tarnishes the image of a successful and beautiful China that he loves to design,” said Prof. Steve Tsang, director of the China SOAS Institute at the Institute for Oriental and African Studies in London.
In recent weeks, Xi himself has reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to high-tech solutions to China’s economic woes. He recently called on the country to invest in next-generation 5G networks and satellites as part of a plan to boost economic growth and employment.
Severe political reality
In addition, he said, it may not be as effective as it once was for Beijing to deploy large, expensive infrastructure projects as a way to tackle its economic problems.
China’s response to its latest major economic shock, the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, included investment in roads, airports and high-speed railways. This time this stimulus line is already saturated.
The recent financial crisis has also left China heavily in debt, making it important for the country to focus on private consumption this time, Zhu added.
Tang Ming, an adviser to the Chinese government, recently told reporters in Beijing that street hockey would not only create jobs but also address public concerns about the concentration of indoor amid the ongoing pandemic.
“But this cannot replace the ‘regular’ economy – what can be sold or bought on the street is very limited,” Tang said. “The government can’t let it grow unchecked – it needs to be regulated as we continue to experiment and explore this option.”
At the annual political meeting in May, Li was expressionless about China’s problems and the extent to which some people may fail 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.
“Is he trying to solve pressing problems with … a realistic approach?” said Willie Lam, an assistant professor at the Research Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Although the approach to the street vendor may not be perfect, he said there could be no better alternative to creating many jobs in a short period of time.
“Employment is an extremely important issue that can cause a political cataclysm … Lee is clearly worried about the disastrous result of huge job losses.”
Tsang, director of the SOAS Institute in China, said Li was probably just trying to oversee the country’s key economic policies.
“The pandemic led to him being allowed to play more than the prime minister’s established role in running the economy, something he was sidelined for most of the Xi era,” Tsang said. “He saw how the economic impact of Covid-19 would require a pragmatic and more assertive approach, thus allowing, even encouraging, street vending for people fired as a result of the pandemic.”
Local authorities are moving forward
Public discussion of Li’s quest for street vendors in China has faded in recent days as major cities – including Beijing and Shenzhen – make it clear that politics is not welcome there.
“Street stalls will not really disappear,” said Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He expected local authorities to continue with the plan, while unemployment remains a major concern.