China seems to have weathered the worst in the Corona crisis – now it is time to start the economy again. In the Yiwu trade metropolis, business people are optimistic.
By Steffen Wurzel, ARD Studio Shanghai
Yiwu station is currently even more hectic than usual due to the coronavirus crisis. Arriving travelers cannot just leave the station premises but have to go through a check first: Chinese-looking people walk right, people who look foreign to the left snake. Europeans are piloted into a small police station.
“Where do you come from? Where do you live? When was the last time you were in Europe?”, The young policeman wants to know. People with a red EU passport are now considered a high-risk group in China. That is why Germans, French, but above all people from Spain and Italy are interviewed particularly intensively. Anyone who has not been in a safe area of China for at least two weeks will be quarantined.
2000 containers full of trade goods leave Yiwu every day
This is a problem for Zhang Qizhen and his team. Zhang is in charge of the Yiwu communist city government to ensure that business is up and running – specifically: that business is up and running. The metropolis south of Shanghai describes itself as the “center for global trade in everyday goods”.
Usually around 2,000 containers full of commercial goods leave the city every day. However, given the virus crisis, business is currently going badly, even though many of the thousands of traders in the city are now working again.
“Many foreign traders are not coming to China right now, so the business is only online,” says Zhang. “This works when dealers and buyers already know each other. But starting new businesses or selling new products – of course that doesn’t work well online.”
In the trade centers: empty halls, hardly any customers
In the center of Yiwu there are several huge, multi-storey halls with thousands of small shops. Goods “Made in China” are traded there. For example, if you want to buy a freight container full of pens, plastic Christmas trees or a hair dryer, you can view the goods here and then order them.
“There are usually a lot of customers walking through the halls at this time of year. We’re just a short distance away,” says Pan Yuanyuan, who sells kitchen knives, spatulas and soup ladles all over the world from her small shop. “At the moment we have very few customers. This is a problem especially for the operators of new shops here in the halls.” Pan says she has regular customers in particular, whom she can also look after using the messenger app – but her sales also fell by 30 to 40 percent.
“We pressed a kind of pause button”
Other traders in Yiwu also give similar figures. Nevertheless, most are very optimistic. Take Ma Zhangliang, for example, who trades teapots and dishes on the third floor of one of the halls.
“We shouldn’t pretend that this is the end of the world. We pressed a kind of pause button,” he says. “We have to tackle the problems and change the way we do business. Then we’ll make money again.”
With sponsored plane tickets, free hotel nights and other benefits, the city of Yiwu is now trying to attract new traders to the city, economic planner Zhang Qizhen explains.
But one thing is clear: A real revival of trade in China will not work as long as countries around the world close their borders or – as in the case of China – put foreign travelers in quarantine for the time being.