China trains chefs, builds ski slopes to cushion slowing growth

A chef preparing a pizza at a restaurant in Shanghai, China, on Nov 2, 2018.
A chef preparing a pizza at a restaurant in Shanghai, China, on Nov 2, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese officials are getting creative in their battle to support the economy as a slowdown weighs on consumers and threatens to dent employment.

Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong and is the largest regional economy, is taking advantage of its famed cuisine to train Cantonese chefs and create 300,000 related jobs by 2022.

That's part of a 20.8 billion yuan (S$4.2 billion) provincial package to promote employment, which includes cutting social security contribution rates, subsidising small businesses and offering seed funding for start-ups.

In the north, the capital Beijing is urging shops and malls to stay open later at night, and the industrial Hebei province is proposing giving workers 2.5-day weekends so they have more time to spend.

The central government - as well as providing tax cuts - is getting creative too, promoting water sports, skiing, outdoor activities and marathons with the goal of boosting annual sports consumption to 1.5 trillion yuan by 2020 in a two-year blueprint released this week.

Chinese policy makers have banked on rising consumption and solid employment in previous downturns to cushion the blow as old smokestack industries slowed.

This time around, retail sales growth and signs of stress in the labour market are showing up, threatening a broader slowdown. Global companies from Apple Inc to Volkswagen AG are among those feeling the effect.

Another possible indicator of the slowdown is that more migrant workers are going back to their home towns for the new year break well ahead of the actual holiday.

The human resources ministry confirmed more workers went home in December 2018 compared to the same time in 2017, and ascribed this to better opportunities at home, personal reasons and also effects from their employers’ operations.