Louis-Vincent Gave

The truth about China’s reopening

February 13, 2023
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In the final months of 2022, China lurched suddenly from a policy of Zero Covid to a rapid re-opening of its economy. At the time, Western media went into overdrive, arguing that the end of restrictions in China had resulted in a bloodbath, with hospitals and crematoriums overflowing. Many predicted a million or more would die from Covid in China following the policy relaxation. But how did these claims match up to reality?

The Beijing government does not have a reputation for transparency when it comes to sharing the country’s infection and death data, so Western media had to get creative in their search for evidence. The New York Times started counting the obituaries of academics; the Washington Post relied on satellite images of crematorium car parks and phone calls with busy receptionists.

A few months on and the story of China’s return to normality remains shrouded in mystery. Is their economy finally bouncing back? How many really died in the infection surge following the end of Zero Covid? And what does the future have in store for China?

Louis-Vincent Gave is the co-founder of Gavekal, a financial and market research group. Gave has a particular focus on China, and he spoke to UnHerd from Hong Kong to share his expertise in a far-reaching conversation that touched on China’s economy as well as the prospect of war with Taiwan.

Gave does not, in fact, dismiss the Western media’s guesswork. It is possible that the papers predicting a million or more dead as a result of China’s extrication from Zero Covid policies weren’t entirely off the mark. But the analyst argues that the enormity of China’s population should not be overlooked. 

“It is possible that maybe half a million or a million people will end up dying from Covid in China, but we also have to realise it’s a sample size of 1.2 billion people. The reality is, if we look at the experience of pretty much any country out there, Covid was never the big killer that was sold to us in the first place.”

The Chinese government was long wedded to the idea of defeating Covid-19, so that a full-blown eradication was the only circumstance under which freedom would be returned to the Chinese. The government’s U-turn was entirely down to the protests, Gave argues. As soon as 50,000 protesters were out on the streets “they folded like a deck of cards”.

Interestingly, Gave adds that protests are not as uncommon in China as the West might think:

The reality is you get tens of thousands of protests in China, every year. They’re not covered by the Western media, because they’re about local issues about polluted water or local authorities who stole land or whatever else. And the modus operandi of the Chinese government is to give in, they blame middle management, they blame the local mayor, they blame that local party secretary, they fire them, or just move them somewhere else. And they give to the demonstrators whatever the demonstrators want.
- Louis-Vincent Gave

Gave declares that the Chinese economy is certainly bouncing back, and predicts it will carry the world with it: “In 2009, when everybody was looking at their shoes saying we’re facing a lost decade, it’s going to be a new normal, of low growth, China’s growth accelerated and led the whole world out of what looked like a massive depression. And we had a little bit of that in 2016. And I think, to be honest, we’re going to see it again.”

On the topic of Taiwan, Gave offers yet more positive predictions. He argues that an invasion of Taiwan will never happen for a number of reasons, above all topographical ones: “Taiwan is a natural fortress”. A hundred miles of sea stand between it and China, and it has mountains reaching 12,000 feet and only three beaches to choose from. “Are you going to try to do this with an army, a navy and an air force that is completely untested? No, there’s no way.”

In fact the prospect of any military action in China seems very unlikely to our guest. Two decades of the one-child policy has instilled in the Chinese a particularly strong aversion to war: “When you have one child, you don’t send them to war. No way. And so that’s one of the particularities of Chinese society that make a military action, in my mind, very unlikely.”


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