Premier’s words elevate status of street vendors . . .
China’s Premier Li Keqiang visited the city of Yantai, in the eastern province of Shandong, last week to praise street vendors and small shops. He said they contribute to China’s vitality and are as crucial as the high-end businesses that cater to a wealthier clientele. Li also commended the southwestern city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, for creating 100,000 ‘street economy’ jobs since early March, reportedly through the opening of 36,000 street stalls.
Dramatic policy shift . . .
As it tries to get its economy back on track post-COVID-19, China is focusing more on employment than on growth. For the coming year, China has set a target of creating nine million urban jobs but has not announced a clear goal for GDP growth. Beijing hopes that the promotion of the country’s ‘street economy’ will be a quick fix for unemployment, particularly for migrant and other low-income populations. This marks a policy reversal. In the late 1970s, the government encouraged the ‘street economy’ as a quick scheme to spearhead China’s developing market economy. But during the 2000s and 2010s, many cities in China cracked down on this type of economic activity, seeing it as an impediment to the creation of modern, global cities.
From the past, to the future . . .
Beijing, which imposed a major crackdown on street vendors in 2017, and Shanghai have expressed reservations about the new policy. Beijing city authorities branded the initiative as “unhygienic and uncivilized.” This could explain why Premier Li left Beijing to make the announcement in Yantai, where city authorities have been laxer. For the policy to succeed, the central government will have to change public perceptions of street vendors – from thinking of them as anachronistic to embracing them as legitimate contributors to the economy. It will also need to assure street vendors that they will be protected in the long term, including when economic trends and state goals begin to change.
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