China’s First Quarter Growth is Expected to Boom on Paper

Factories are whirring, new apartments are being snapped up and more jobs are up for grabs. When China releases its new economic figures on Friday, they are expected to show a remarkable post-pandemic surge.

The question is whether small businesses and Chinese consumers can fully share in the good times.

China is expected to report that its economy grew by a jaw-dropping double-digit figure in the first three months of the year compared with the same period the year before. The number is widely estimated by economists to be 18 percent to 19 percent. But the growth is as much a reflection of the past — the country’s output shrank 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier — as it is an indication of how China is doing now.

A year ago, entire cities were shut down, planes were grounded and highways were blocked to control the spread of a relentless virus. Today, global demand for computer screens and video consoles that China makes is soaring as people work from home and as a pandemic recovery beckons. That demand has continued as Americans with stimulus checks look to spend money on patio furniture, electronics and other goods made in Chinese factories.

in the corporate sector, where many firms have borrowed beyond their means. Many economists are looking for signs of a broader recovery that relies less on exports and the government and more on Chinese consumers to juice growth.

A slow vaccination rollout and fresh memories of lockdowns have left many consumers in the country skittish. Restaurants are still struggling to bounce back. Waiters, shopkeepers and students are not ready yet for the “revenge spending” that economists hope will power growth. When virus outbreaks occur, the Chinese authorities are quick to put new lockdowns in place, hurting small businesses and their customers.

To avoid a wave of outbreaks in February, the authorities canceled the travel plans of millions of migrant workers for the Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest holiday of the year in China.

“China’s Covid strategy has been to crush it when it reappears, but there seems to be a lot of voluntary social distancing and that’s affecting services,” said Shaun Roache, chief economist for Asia Pacific at S&P Global. “It’s holding back normalization.”

Wu Zhen runs a family business of 13 restaurants and dozens of banquet halls in Yingtan, a city in China’s southeastern Jiangxi Province. When China began to bounce back last year, more people started coming to her restaurants for their favorite dishes, like braised pork. But just as she and her employees began preparing for the Lunar New Year, a new Covid-19 outbreak prompted the authorities to limit the number of people allowed to gather in one place to 50.

“It should have been the best time of the year for our business,” said Ms. Wu, 33.

This year, Ms. Wu decided that closing the entire business over the holiday would be cheaper. “If we want to serve Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner, the labor wage for one day is three times higher than the usual time. We save more money by just closing the doors and the business,” she said. It will be the second year in a row that the restaurants shut their doors over the holiday.

Ms. Wu inherited the business from her father two years ago and employs more than 800 people. Before the pandemic, three quarters of the business revenue came from big banquets for weddings and family reunions. She said business has yet to return to normal after months of crushing virus restrictions.

The setbacks facing small-business owners like Ms. Wu are also affecting regular consumers who are jittery about opening their wallets. According to Zhaopin, China’s biggest job recruitment platform, more jobs in hotels and restaurants, entertainment services and real estate are available than a year ago. But households are still being cautious about spending.

Families continue to save at a higher rate than they did before the pandemic, something that worries economists like Louis Kuijs, who is head of Asian economics at Oxford Economics. Mr. Kuijs is looking at household savings as an indication of whether Chinese consumers are ready to start splurging after months of being stuck at home.

“More people still seem to not go all the way in terms of carefree spending,” he said. “At times there are still some lingering Covid concerns, but there is perhaps also a concern about the general economic situation.”

Many families took on more debt last year as they borrowed to buy property and to cover expenses during the pandemic. China still largely lacks the kind of social safety net that many wealthy countries provide, and some families have to dip into savings for health care and other big costs.

Unlike much of the developed world, China doesn’t subsidize its consumers. Instead of handing out checks to jump-start the economy last year, China ordered state-owned banks to lend to businesses and offered tax rebates.

Retail figures on Friday will give a better sense of where consumers are picking up their old spending habits. But data from the first two months of the year already show that consumers like Li Jinqiu are spending less and saving more.

Mr. Li, 25, who recently got married, has a one-month-old baby at home. He had planned to work for the family business, but it has been hit by the pandemic and he doesn’t think there is much opportunity for him if he stays.

“The whole family has some sense of crisis,” Mr. Li said. “Because of the pandemic and because of family business, I have a sense of crisis.”

Mr. Li said he had received a job offer in sales at a financial firm in Beijing but had delayed the start date to help take care of his newborn. He said he once borrowed to spend on items like his $150,000 Mercedes. Now he drives a $46,000 electric car and has put off buying new clothes.

“When I spend,” he said, “I am more cautious.”

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They Survived Taiwan’s Train Crash. Their Loved Ones Did Not.

HUALIEN, Taiwan — Crawling through the smoky wreckage, she first found her husband and son pinned under luggage lockers and mangled steel, but they weren’t breathing. Then she called her daughter’s name. A faint voice responded: “I’m over here.”

Following the voice, Hana Kacaw found her daughter underneath a mass of metal train parts. She tried pulling pieces of the wreckage off, but it was no use. “Please hold on,” she urged. “Someone is coming to rescue us.’

“I can’t hang on any longer,” her daughter responded, according to Ms. Kacaw. Those were her last words.

Just like that, Ms. Kacaw had lost her husband of more than 20 years and their 21-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter, both promising athletes in college. They were among the 51 people who were killed on Friday when a train derailed along Taiwan’s east coast in the island’s worst such disaster in four decades. Others who died included the train’s two drivers, at least two young children, as well as a French national and an American.

The eight-car Taroko Express train had been nearly full, with about 490 passengers — including 120 or so who held standing-room-only tickets — on the first day of a long holiday weekend in Taiwan. The authorities say the train, which was bound for the eastern city of Taitung, probably collided with a construction vehicle that had rolled down a slope onto the track, then slammed into a tunnel.

The authorities, who have pledged a thorough investigation, said on Saturday that a suspect had been questioned and then released on bail. The government also said that it might compensate families about $190,000 for each deceased person, although it would finalize the amount later.

By Saturday, rescuers had saved all those they presumed had survived, and were using excavators to try to pull out the train cars. The casualties were the greatest in several train cars — numbered 5 to 8 — that were stuck deep inside the tunnel. Ms. Kacaw, who had been in Car 8, at the front of the train, had eventually found her way out of the tunnel on her own.

After spending a sleepless night in a hotel, she joined dozens of other grieving relatives on Saturday in the grim, painful task of identifying remains and saying their goodbyes.

They gathered at a temporary support center that had been set up under tents outside a funeral home in Hualien, a city south of the crash site. They took turns entering a morgue where bodies were being kept, and many emerged shaken and distraught. Some discussed funeral arrangements and reviewed autopsy reports, while volunteers, Christian pastors and Buddhist monks — and even President Tsai Ing-wen, briefly — offered comfort.

For some families, grief has been complicated by uncertainty. Some relatives were frustrated that they had been unable to identify their loved ones, but officials said they were hoping that DNA samples would help. The impact of the crash was so great and the destruction so severe, the officials explained, that in several train cars, rescuers could only extricate human remains in parts.

Inside these train cars, the acrid smell of blood hung in the air, said Zeng Wen-Long, a volunteer Red Cross rescue worker, in an interview. It was there, also in Car 8, that Mr. Zeng’s team found 5-year-old Yang Chi-chen, who had been traveling with her older sister and father, wedged under a chair.

More than an hour passed before the team had reached her on Friday, and she was already very weak. Mr. Zeng said he had carried her to her father, Max Yang, who was leaning against the tunnel and had called out to the rescuers, asking to hold the motionless child.

Mr. Yang, 42, said he had tried calling to her to wake her up. Several times, he said, her eyes would flutter open before closing again. “I’m sorry,” Mr. Yang told her.

By the time they got to a hospital, Mr. Yang said, Chi-chen had died. She was one of the youngest victims. Her 9-year-old sister remains in intensive care.

On Saturday, Mr. Yang returned to the site of the crash — a tunnel running through verdant mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean — with other grieving relatives to “call back the soul,” a traditional Taoist mourning ritual typically performed for victims of an accident.

Facing the placid blue waters, the family members called out to their loved ones who had perished in the crash.

“Come home!” they yelled toward the tunnel, where workers in yellow hard hats had halted work on restoring the damaged railway track and removing the train carriages. “It’s time to go now!”

Mr. Yang said that Chi-Chen, a rambunctious girl, had been excited to spend the long holiday weekend at an ocean-themed amusement park in Hualien, known for its dolphin show.

“Yang Chi-chen, stop playing in the water now, we’re leaving!” wailed Mr. Yang, who still had a catheter in his hand and bandages on his bruised cheek. “We’re going to take the bus to have fun somewhere else!”

On a viewing platform above the other families, Ms. Kacaw, the woman who had lost her husband and two children, wept quietly as a Christian pastor led a prayer.

Both her son, Kacaw, and her daughter, Micing, had been students and track stars at the National Taiwan Sport University in Taoyuan, a city near Taipei. They were a tight-knit family and maintained a deep connection to their Indigenous ethnic group, the Amis.

Ms. Kacaw said she had enjoyed playing badminton with her daughter in their neighborhood in New Taipei City and listening to her son play the guitar. She said the children had been introverts, just like their father, Siki Takiyo, whom she described as a soft-spoken university administrator.

Now, all three of them were gone, and Ms. Kacaw’s grief was compounded by guilt as she struggled to understand how they could have died while she survived.

She said she could not stop thinking about how she had asked her children to go back to their ancestral home in eastern Taiwan. She had wanted them to see their grandparents and pay their respects at their ancestors’ graves. The children had agreed even though her daughter had a track meet and her son had been preparing for exams.

On Friday morning, the family missed the train they had originally booked. A kindly ticket seller on the platform had offered to upgrade them to the Taroko Express, which would get them there faster. On the train, she had taken a seat at the back of the first car, while her husband and children had been at the front — the part of the train that would later absorb the greatest impact.

To Ms. Kacaw, the seeming randomness of it all was unbearable.

“Why didn’t I go with them?” she asked, in tears. “Why did I ask my children to come home with me?”

After the prayer, she sat in a wheelchair, dazed, a large cotton bandage across her forehead. Tears streamed down her face as she stared out at the ocean. A light rain began to fall.

“My only wish is for them to come into my dreams tonight,” she said.

Joy Dong reported from Hong Kong.

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Could the Pandemic Spell the End of U.K.’s High Speed Rail?

STEEPLE CLAYDON, England — A chorus of bird song gives way to the roar of a chain saw and then the creaking and splintering of timber. A 50-foot tree sways, wobbles and finally crashes to the ground, while protesters shout and jeer.

The construction of the British government’s largest public works project — a high-speed rail line known as HS2 — has long been promoted as helping to save the environment. But it is under growing challenge from those who accuse it of doing the exact opposite.

They have waged a mostly fruitless fight against the project, a grand scheme to cut air and road travel by connecting the north of England to the more prosperous south with trains traveling at up to 225 miles per hour.

Now, with the pandemic prompting a surge in working from home and a slump in train travel, the opponents believe the argument is finally tilting their way, eroding the already shaky rationale for an effort that could cost more than $140 billion.

thought to have cost the project around £50 million already. Activists caught the authorities by surprise when they occupied tunnels dug near Euston Station in London, where the line starts and where Larch Maxey, a veteran of such protests, spent three weeks underground despite suffering from claustrophobia.

“I was living in an incredibly confined space, but it got better in the second and third weeks and it became an empowering experience,” he said in an interview. He described the project as “a 20th century scheme foisted on the 21st century,” adding, “The business model for HS2 was always shaky — it was based around the expected growth of business travel — and that has disappeared.”

At a protest camp at Jones Hill Wood, about 25 miles from Steeple Claydon, activists have built tree houses and other shelters on a landscape that inspired the writer Roald Dahl, and where tree felling was scheduled last year.

They say they have worked hard to monitor wildlife, including the location of badger dens and bat colonies, to hold officials to their promises to protect some species. But construction work is going on behind a green metal fence erected by security guards who take video footage on their phones of anyone who approaches.

Sitting around a campfire, Ross Monaghan, an activist who has spent a year here, much of it sleeping in a treehouse 80 feet above the ground, said it was “a victory that Jones Hill Wood is still standing, but we haven’t won that battle yet.”

To prevent more felling, he said, “people are going to have to step forward, put their bodies on the line, put their freedom on the line, and I think you will see that happen.”

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Iran, China Sign Economic, Security Agreement, Challenging U.S. Pressure

Iran and China signed a wide-ranging economic and security cooperation agreement, defying U.S. attempts to isolate Iran and advancing Tehran’s longstanding efforts to deepen diplomatic ties outside Western powers.

Foreign ministers Javad Zarif and Wang Yi signed on Saturday what both sides bill as a “strategic partnership” that will last for 25 years. The deal, which was five years in the making, was signed in Tehran.

Details about the agreement weren’t immediately published, but a draft of the agreement circulated last year included Chinese investments in projects ranging from nuclear energy, ports, railroads and other infrastructure to transfer of military technology and investment in Iran’s oil-and-gas industry.

In return for investments, China would receive steady supplies of Iranian oil, Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency said Saturday, adding that the two countries also agreed to establish an Iranian-Chinese bank. Such a bank could help Tehran evade U.S. sanctions that have effectively barred it from global banking systems.

“This cooperation is a basis for Iran and China to participate in major projects and infrastructure development,” including Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday ahead of the signing, referring to China’s vast global investment and development strategy.

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Trains Collide in Egypt, Killing at Least 32

CAIRO — Two trains collided in southern Egypt on Friday, killing at least 32 people and injuring 90, in the latest disaster to strike a railway system that has been plagued by accidents, poor maintenance and mismanagement for years.

The Egyptian National Railways Authority said “unknown actors” had activated the brakes on one of the trains involved near the city of Sohag on the Nile and another train coming from behind crashed into it, causing two passenger cars to overturn. A video shot by a passenger and posted online showed a frantic scene inside one of the cars, where people appeared to be trapped.

“Save us,” one of the passengers is heard screaming. “We can’t get the people out.”

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi promised in a post on his official Twitter page to penalize those responsible.

“The pain that breaks our hearts will only increase our resolve to end such disasters,” he said.

The collision came as Egypt was dealing with a crisis on the Suez Canal, where a cargo ship that ran aground has halted traffic for days on one of the world’s main shipping routes.

country’s worst rail disaster claimed more than 300 lives when a fire erupted on a speeding train traveling to Cairo from southern Egypt.

At least 20 people were killed and dozens were injured in 2019 when a train crashed into a platform at Cairo’s main rail station, touching off a fire. A year earlier, a passenger train and a cargo train collided in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, killing at least 12 people. In 2017, two trains crashed near the port city of Alexandria, killing at least 37 people and injuring more than 100.

While investigations and inquiries are often ordered up following the crashes, little has been done to solve the longstanding problems. After one crash in 2018, Mr. Sisi said the government lacked the roughly $14 billion needed to overhaul the run-down rail system.

Anna Schaverien contributed reporting from London.

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$29 Billion Railroad Merger to Connect U.S., Mexico and Canada

Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern announced plans on Sunday to combine in a $29 billion deal that would create the first railroad network connecting the United States, Mexico and Canada.

It is an effort to capitalize on the trade flows expected to run through the three countries after President Donald J. Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement into law last year. It’s also a bet on the strength of the industrial economy as the United States rebounds from the pandemic.

Canadian Pacific links major ports on the East and West Coasts between the United States and Canada, while Kansas City Southern connects the United States, Mexico and Panama. The two connect on a single point: a joint facility in Kansas City, Mo., where Kansas City Southern is based.

“This deal just has so many longer-term strategic advantages,” Kansas City Southern’s chief executive, Patrick J. Ottensmeyer, said in an interview. “Our board really saw the value in putting these two companies together right now.”

$208 a share offer from the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, that Kansas City Southern rebuffed last year. Shares of Kansas City are up 12 percent year-to-date, while shares of Canadian Pacific have climbed almost 10 percent.

The boards of both companies have unanimously approved the cash-and-stock deal, which is expected to close by the middle of 2022, subject to customary approvals.

The railroad industry can be viewed as a bellwether of industrial activity; it expects to benefit from a growing U.S. economy as it emerges from the pandemic. The Federal Reserve has signaled optimism for the nation’s economic outlook, and President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion spending bill into law this month.

in his annual letter.

The railroad executives on Sunday highlighted other opportunities they see in the deal. Mr. Creel called the merger a “compelling opportunity to take trucks off the road” at a time when the United States is focused on a transition to a greener economy. It also reduces risks in the global supply chain after a pandemic that highlighted its weaknesses, Mr. Ottensmeyer said.

The deal needs approval from the Surface Transportation Board, a division of the Department of Transportation, which has previously acknowledged concerns that railroad consolidation has led to service issues for shippers. Canadian Pacific’s past efforts to acquire U.S. railroads have failed, in part because of such concerns. That includes talks with CSX Corporation in 2014 and Norfolk Southern in 2016. And the Biden administration has already signaled a tougher stance on antitrust scrutiny.

Because of its size, Kansas City Southern is exempt from guidelines put in place in 2001 to tighten deal scrutiny in the industry. The combined company would still be the smallest of the remaining six largest freight railroads operating in the United States. The two railroads have no overlap, Mr. Creel and Mr. Ottensmeyer said — and, in some cases, the transaction will create new markets.

“There’s zero other deals that represent the uniqueness of this deal,” Mr. Creel said.

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Your Daylight Saving Time Questions Answered

“There was the threat of federal intervention in all of this, so the railroads decided they were going to police themselves,” said Carlene Stephens, a curator at the National Museum of American History. Scientists were also urging a standardized system for marking time, she said.

In North America, a coalition of businessmen and scientists decided on time zones, and in 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads adopted four (Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific) to streamline service. The shift was not universally well received. Evangelical Christians were among the strongest opponents, arguing “time came from God and railroads were not to mess with it,” Ms. Stephens said.

The introduction of time zones prompted fears of a kind of 19th-century Y2K. “Jewelers were busy yesterday answering questions from the curious, many of whom seemed to think that the change in time would generally create a sensation, a stoppage of business, and some sort of a disaster, the nature of which could not be exactly ascertained,” The New York Times reported in November 1883.

Once the time zone business was settled, it wasn’t long until Franklin’s idea for daylight saving was refashioned for the industrial world. In the 1900s, an English builder, William Willet, urged British lawmakers to shift the clocks to reap economic benefits. Parliament rejected the proposal in 1909, only to embrace it a few years later under the pressures of World War I. In 1916, Germany was the first European nation to enact the policy in an effort to cut energy costs, and over the next few years several Western nations followed suit. In the United States, the federal government took oversight of time zones in 1918. And in March of that year, the country lost its first hour of sleep.

One of the oldest arguments for daylight saving time is that it can save energy costs. There have been many conflicting studies about whether actually it does.

A Department of Energy report from 2008 found that the extended daylight saving time signed by George W. Bush in 2005 saved about 0.5 percent in total electricity use per day. Also that year, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the shift in daylight saving time, “contrary to the policy’s intent,” increased residential electricity demand by about 1 percent, raising electricity bills in Indiana by $9 million per year and increasing pollution emissions.

But daylight saving time still has fervent supporters, especially among business advocates who argue it helps drive the economy.

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