China is likely to keep imposing sweeping lockdowns into 2023, the US ambassador said Thursday, as he cautioned that the zero-COVID strategy was hurting business.
"I think we are going to have to live with this for a long time. My own assumption is that we'll see the continuation of zero-COVID probably into the beginning of 2023," Ambassador Nicholas Burns told the Brookings Institution.
Burns, speaking to the Washington think tank by video link from Beijing, said that the lockdowns were disrupting supply chains and making foreign businesses wait before considering further investment.
"This is just too important a market for countries to leave, so we don't see a lot of companies leaving lock, stock and barrel," Burns said.
But from his conversations with US businesses, Burns said, "I think there is a lot of hesitancy to invest in future obligations until they see the end of this."
The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai in a recent survey said that one quarter of US firms were scaling back investment plans and nearly all were dropping revenue forecasts after the lockdown in the business hub.
COVID-19 was first detected in the final days of 2019 in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, which saw rare public displays of anger over the government's failure to stop its spread.
Beijing has since vowed to defeat the global pandemic and is the only major economy trying to prevent any cases, imposing mass testing requirements and forcing millions of people at a time to stay at home.
Burns said that the lockdowns also impeded diplomacy with China, whose relationship with the United States he recently described as falling to the lowest point since the establishment of ties a half-century ago.
"It's difficult to convince any of my colleagues in Washington to come here if I tell them that if they do it they've got to quarantine for 14 days before they can have a single meeting," he said.