Street vendors in unexpected comeback in China

Vendors wearing a face mask following the COVID-19 outbreak wait for customers at their street stall in Beijing, China, on June 5, 2020. (REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Street vendors in unexpected comeback in China

  • Once heavily punished by state authorities, street stalls are now enjoying a government U-turn amid worrying employment figures

BEIJING: Three weeks ago, Beijing authorities swooped in on Shan Peng and her makeshift street stall, seizing her merchandise — yogurt and casual pants — and even her electric tricycle.

She was used to police evictions.

“Just raise your gun an inch, sir, and we peddlers would be able to get by,” she would say, begging them to let her off.

In the same busy alley today, the 51-year-old was selling shrink-wrapped bacon out of a cardboard box — unharassed.

Shan hoped to take home at least 100 yuan ($14) a day. She has mouths to feed — her elderly mother, a dog she rescued from a shelter, and herself, a cancer patient.

Street stalls, seen officially as a blight on China’s modernizing urban landscape, are making an unexpected comeback in a year of rare economic pain.

At the annual session of parliament last month, the livelihoods of ordinary people were widely discussed. Afterwards, Premier Li Keqiang told reporters 600 million people still live on monthly salaries of 1,000 yuan.

The spectre of mass unemployment has sharpened the focus of China’s top leadership on low-income groups with little financial backup to cope with job losses.

In a U-turn, authorities said last week local governments will not be assessed by the number of roadside vendors in their cities this year. In the past, municipal officials were awarded high marks for eradicating hawkers.

The premier also gave his blessing. During a visit to a seaside town in Shandong province, Li said the “street stall economy” was the light of humanity and the vitality of China.

With uncharacteristic speed, cities like Shanghai and Chengdu have taken steps to promote their street stall economies. Even Wuhan — former epicenter of China’s COVID-19 outbreak — joined in as the coronavirus threat receded.

E-commerce giants pledged support. Alibaba and JD.com said they would sell merchandise to street-stall owners on credit. Pinduoduo will offer discounts on a range of “must-haves” for setting up a stall such as flashlights and small fans.

Wuling Motors said a newl mini truck specially designed for street stalls received more orders on Wednesday alone than all of May, official media reported. Its Hong Kong shares rose over 200 percent this week.

Dongfeng Motor Group and Jiangling Motors Corp. (JMC) said some of their vans can be modified to suit vegetable sellers or BBQ street food vendors.

Some economists say street stalls will not make much difference to gross domestic product, but reflect the enormous pressure on the government to stabilize employment and curb any social unrest.

“It’s an emergency and temporary solution to the unemployment woes brought on by the coronavirus,” said Nie Wen, economist at Shanghai-based Hwabao Trust.

Wang Kang, 38, works at a mobile payment company. But with his salary slashed by 30 percent, he started hawking t-shirts and toys in the evenings.

“I’m here because I need the money,” he said. “Even if it’s just tens of yuan per night, that’s enough for lunch.”

Yi Shaohua, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s top state think-tank, said the street stall campaign will at least help lift people’s spirits.

“The upshot is it’ll get people out of their homes, add liveliness to the streets and thus help boost economic confidence,” Yi said. 


Saudi Arabia’s 6-point plan to jumpstart global economy

Updated 07 July 2020

Saudi Arabia’s 6-point plan to jumpstart global economy

  • Policy recommendations to G20 aim to counter effects of pandemic

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as president of the G20 group of nations, has unveiled a six-point business plan to jump start the global economy out of the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yousef Al-Benyan, the chairman of the B20 business group within the G20, told a webinar from Riyadh that the response to the pandemic -— including the injection of $5 trillion into the global economy — had been “reassuring.”

But he warned that the leading economies of the world had to continue to work together to mitigate the effects of global lockdowns and to address the possibility of a “second wave” of the disease.

“Cooperation and collaboration between governments, global governance institutions and businesses is vital for an effective and timely resolution of this multi-dimensional contagion transcending borders,” Al-Benyan said.

“The B20 is strongly of the view there is no alternative to global cooperation, collaboration and consensus to tide over a multi-dimensional and systemic crisis,” he added.

The six-point plan, contained in a special report to the G20 leadership with input from 750 global business leaders, sets out a series of policy recommendations to counter the effects of the disease which threaten to spark the deepest economic recession in nearly a century.

The document advocates policies to build health resilience, safeguard human capital, and prevent financial instability.

It also promotes measures to free up global supply chains, revive productive economic sectors, and digitize the world economy “responsibly and inclusively.”

In a media question-and-answer session to launch the report, Al-Benyan said that among the top priorities for business leaders were the search for a vaccine against the virus that has killed more than half-a-million people around the world, and the need to reopen global trade routes slammed shut by economic lockdowns.

He said that the G20 response had been speedy and proactive, especially in comparison with the global financial crisis of 2009, but he said that more needed to be done, especially to face the possibility that the disease might surge again. “Now is not the time to celebrate,” he warned.

“Multilateral institutions and mechanisms must be positively leveraged by governments to serve their societies and must be enhanced wherever necessary during and after the pandemic,” he said, highlighting the role of the World Health Organization, the UN and the International Monetary Fund, which have come under attack from some world leaders during the pandemic.

Al-Benyan said that policy responses to the pandemic had been “designed according to each country’s requirements.”

Separately, the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority said that it was “too early” to say if the Kingdom’s economy would experience a sharp “V-shape” recovery from pandemic recession.