China's foreign minister denies major risks to Chinese economy as cases surge past 66,000

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Wang Yi, Foreign Minister of China, speaks on the second day of the 56th Munich Security Conference.

Tobias Hase | Picture Alliance via Getty Images

MUNICH — China’s Foreign Minister said Saturday that the Chinese economy — the second-largest in the world — will emerge stronger from the deadly coronavirus outbreak, even as confirmed cases of the disease surge past 66,000.

“We are confident that China will emerge stronger from the epidemic. Its pent up consumer demand and growth potential will be quickly unleashed and China will enjoy evermore sound and sustainable economic and social development,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told an audience at the Munich Security Conference.

“The Chinese economy is well-positioned to overcome all risks and challenges. The fundamentals sustaining sound economic growth have not changed and will not change,” he added.

The flu-like virus, now named COVID-19, has killed more than 1,500 people and sickened more than 66,400 worldwide, the vast majority in China. 

Since the deadly outbreak, Wang is the first Chinese senior official to travel overseas. His comments come on the heels of the first coronavirus death confirmed in Europe, an elderly Chinese tourist who was hospitalized in late January. On Saturday, the U.S. State Department announced it would evacuate American citizens stuck aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that’s been quarantined off the coast of Japan and is the largest cluster of infected people outside China, with 285 confirmed cases out of 3,500 passengers and crew. 

Economists have warned of a potential technical recession in China as productivity across much of the country grinds to a halt and factories and businesses stay closed while the government instructs people to stay home. The more than 20 Chinese provinces put under effective lockdown accounted for over 80% of national GDP last year. 

The state has had to step in to provide some economic relief. The People’s Bank of China has announced it will provide 300 billion yuan in low-cost loans for banks to lend to businesses affected by the virus. Several municipal and provincial governments have also announced measures for supporting small and medium-sized enterprises.

While the majority of confirmed coronavirus cases are in mainland China, the virus has also been identified in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Singapore, Nepal, Hong Kong, Macao, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom.

CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report from Dubai and Evelyn Cheng contributed reporting from Beijing.

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