Beijing has pinned hopes on creative measures from provincial governments to boost regional economies amidst the ongoing trade war with the United States.
To stimulate domestic consumption, Beijing encouraged longer operating hours in urban areas including shopping malls, supermarkets and convenience stores while in neighboring Hebei province, the authorities are studying the possibility of introducing a four-and-a-half-day working week.
In a directive published online, Hebei province has proposed a two-and-a-half-day weekend that is devised to increase consumption during 2019 and 2020 by encouraging employers to adopt more flexible working hours and encourage leave on non-public holidays.
Some ideas arising in different municipalities are nothing if not creative. For example, the provincial Guangdong government is to launch a 10 billion yuan (US$1.48 billion) project that will train 50,000 chefs in the preparation of Cantonese cuisine by 2022.
This comes as part of a project kicked off by the Guangdong government in 2018. The new scheme involved setting new standards in Cantonese cuisine, including ratings and recognition for restaurants and employers that will facilitate the employment and increase entrepreneurial opportunities for 300,000 workers employed in the food industry.
State planners last week announced their intention to roll out a new set of incentives to encourage a billion Chinese consumers to buy more items such as cars and home appliances. This is seen as an effort to fend off an economic downturn in times of falling stock markets and a Sino-American trade war.
The state-owned People’s Daily supported Hebei’s proposal, stating that “one cannot work well if he does not know how to rest well. Whether encouraging off-peak holidays or flexible working hours, or the 2½-day weekend, they should follow public opinion and ultimately provide for better work.”
However, commentators on the Internet are worried that the longer weekend benefits only civil servants because many companies do not even guarantee two weekly holidays. They hope public services will not be affected by this new policy.
Whatever the argument, it is clear that Beijing is determined to stimulate consumption, one way or another, as a first line of defense against a slowing economy.