People walk past the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, in Beijing on Monday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 18 (UPI) -- China's economy grew faster than expected last year, making it one of the only major economies to see expansion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Bureau of Statistics of China on Monday reported gross domestic product increased by 2.3% compared to 2019 as countries worldwide struggled due to lockdowns and border closures put in place to stamp out spread of the coronavirus.
"The performance was better than we expected," Ning Jizhe, head of the bureau, said during a news conference.
The Asian nation was the original epicenter of the virus, which first emerged in its central Wuhan city in December 2019 before spreading the world over.
In the first three months of the year, China posted a 6.8% contraction, its first on record, as it placed cities with populations of millions under lockdown, told businesses and factories to shutter and instructed people to stay home.
The country, however, seemingly and quickly rebounded as the down quarter was followed by a 3.2% increase in Q2, a 4.9% expansion in Q3 and a 6.5% jump in the last three months of 2020.
Last year was also the first on record to see GDP break the 100 trillion yuan mark, or about $15.5 trillion.
"In an extraordinary year, China's economy was able to record an extraordinary accomplishment," the bureau head said. "It's a performance that is satisfactory to the people, watched by the world and can be recorded in the annals of history."
The expansion is nearly double the 1.9% growth projected earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund, which said it expects China's GDP to grow by 7.9% this year "as economic activity continues to normalize and domestic outbreaks remain under control."
Despite a strong showing, China posted a near 4% drop in retail sales leading to worries about consumer spending into this year during which health officials have already instituted lockdowns to northern cities experiencing outbreaks.
"Following new government restrictions amid COVID-19 outbreaks in two provinces, reduced confidence during the Chinese New Year holidays in February could hamper first-quarter growth," said Louis Kuijs, Asia Pacific analyst at Oxford Economics. "But, at least for now, we think the risk of major economic impact is low, given China's track record of containing outbreaks."