China Steps Up Disaster Relief, Milder Weather Seen


The Chinese government is stepping up disaster relief after parts of the south and east were struck by their worst snows in half a century, though the weather is expected to become milder this week.

The freezing storms have killed about 60 people, and left millions stranded ahead of Chinese New Year, the only opportunity many people have in China to take a holiday all year.

Roads and railways, some of which have been blocked for days, have started to move again, and less flights are being cancelled, state media said, offering a glimmer of hope.

In China's commercial capital of Shanghai, 795,000 people left by train on Saturday alone, and a further 110,000 left by road on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The government is now turning its efforts to restoring power and water supplies, which some cities have been lacking for more than a week.

The State Council, China's cabinet, has ordered a beefing up of work to clear ice and snow affected roads and railways, and urged repair work on power equipment be speeded up, Xinhua said.

Rain is expected later this week, which should help thaw the snow, it added.

Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, blamed the La Nina phenomenon and "abnormal atmospheric circulation" for the storms, Xinhua said.

In the eastern city of Nanjing, four people died after a snow-laden roof collapsed at a gas station, the agency added.

"The station ceiling ... suddenly gave way to the thick snow that had accumulated on it over the past few days. When it hit the ground, it engulfed all the vehicles and people beneath it," the report said.

Mobilizing the might of the state, China has deployed more than 300,000 troops and nearly 1.1 million militia and army reservists to get traffic moving and ensure power supplies.

Marksmen fired sub-machine guns at power lines to blast off ice and soldiers used tanks to clear the build-up of snow, Xinhua reported, saying such war-like tactics were widespread as troops "combated snow disasters".

Authorities in Guangzhou said their priority was to clear the backlog of thousands of people still waiting at the railway station, having cajoled millions more migrant workers to stay put and skip what for many is their only chance each year to visit family.

Chinese Economists See End Of Double-Digit Growth

This patch of bad weather, the global economic slowdown and fast-rising prices at home may spell the end of China's five-year boom of double-digit growth with low inflation.

Stagflation -- a toxic cocktail of stagnant growth coupled with rising prices that Chinese textbooks portrayed as an insoluble defect of capitalism when it gripped Western economies in the 1970s, may enter China's economic lexicon.

"We are facing a stagflation situation. Shall we care more about growth or about prices?" asked Wang Jian, secretary-general of the China Society of Macroeconomics think-tank.

He said weakening external demand stemming from the U.S. credit crisis would expose overcapacity at home in 2008, stalling Chinese growth, while the long-term trend of rising prices for land, labor and resources would stoke inflation.

Yu Yongding, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a former member of the central bank's monetary policy committee, also used stagflation to describe China's economic outlook this year.

Yu said: "For China, a growth rate of less than 9 percent could be called stagnation, while other countries would regard it as high growth."

Fan Gang, Yu's successor as academic adviser on the monetary policy committee, said growth may dip into single digits in 2008 for the first time in six years. But such a slowdown would be welcome as it would help to relieve inflationary pressures.

"A growth rate of more than 11 percent is certainly too much; even if we come down to 10 percent or 9 percent, it's still high," Fan said in an interview with the portal Sina.com. "But if you don't adjust now, there will be a crisis when the economy overheats," he said.

Mounting signs of weakness in the U.S. economy, coupled with temporary disruptions to output at home caused by blizzards, are raising expectations in markets that the People's Bank of China might row back.