China's economy recorded its sharpest quarterly growth on record in the first three months of 2021, expanding 18.3 percent from a year earlier, official data showed Friday, as both domestic and external demand steadily recuperated from the coronavirus crisis.
Since the increase in new infections apparently peaked in late February last year, China, dubbed the "world's factory," has shown signs of a V-shaped economic recovery with business activities intensifying and retail sales bouncing back.
During the same period in 2020, the economy plunged 6.8 percent, marking its first quarterly contraction, as movements of people and goods were drastically restricted amid the outbreak, dealing a heavy blow to production, consumption and trade across the board.
The fourth straight quarter of growth in the January-March period has raised expectations that China can achieve its annual gross domestic product target of "over 6 percent" for 2021, set by the Communist-led government at this year's parliament in early March.
China registered 2.3 percent year-on-year economic growth in 2020 as the world's second-biggest economy expanded for the third consecutive quarter from the April-June period after plummeting in the first three months of the year.
It was the only major economy to attain positive growth in 2020.
Beijing began releasing quarterly GDP figures in 1992. The previous highest growth rate since comparable data became available was 15.3 percent, posted in the January-March period of 1993.
As the pandemic significantly choked business activities at home, President Xi Jinping's leadership stepped up measures to bolster China's export-oriented economy, such as providing ample funds to money markets.
The International Monetary Fund has projected the Chinese economy to grow 8.4 percent in 2021, and 5.6 percent in 2022.
In the three months through March, retail sales of consumer goods skyrocketed 33.9 percent, while investment in fixed assets, excluding rural households, also jumped 25.6 percent.
China's industrial production surged 24.5 percent, with the total value of exports soaring 38.7 percent.
Analysts, however, said the prospects for the economy are not necessarily bright, given that lingering tensions with the United States over trade and human rights issues as well as spikes in global material prices are likely to weigh on production.
Beijing has still been at odds with Washington over several matters including tariff barriers, its alleged human rights abuses, Taiwan and Hong Kong, clouding the outlook for China's trade to the United States, the world's largest market.
Many organizations worldwide, meanwhile, have called on the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision to allow the Chinese capital to host the 2022 Winter Games, as Washington has accused Beijing of committing "genocide" in Xinjiang.
If the United States and some of its democratic allies boycott the Beijing Olympics, the celebratory mood for the sports events could peter out, which could stifle consumer spending and erode corporate profits.
China has consistently argued its detention camps are vocational training centers established to preemptively combat terrorism and religious extremism in the nation's far western region.
Recent sharp rises in energy and iron ore prices in the wake of a global economic rebound may also make Chinese enterprises reluctant to boost investment and production.
China's National Bureau of Statistics said the national economy in the first quarter presented continued momentum of a stable recovery, generally.
But the bureau added, "The international landscape is complicated with high uncertainties and instabilities."
"The foundation for domestic economic recovery is yet to be consolidated and the longstanding structural problems remain prominent with new situations and issues arising from development," it said.
On the mainland, the total number of coronavirus infections has so far reached around 90,000, with more than 4,600 deaths, according to the country's health authorities. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official tally.