China says wants economy to grow over 6pc in 2021

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s leaders said yesterday they had set a target for gross domestic product (GDP) to grow more than six per cent this year, as the world’s second largest economy surges out of a pandemic-induced slump.

The global growth powerhouse stuttered in 2020, logging its slowest expansion in four decades as strict virus containment measures at home collided with a freeze in international trade.

The slowdown raised doubts about the Communist Party’s ability to deliver on its pledge of continued prosperity in return for unquestioned political power.

But with the coronavirus largely brought under control domestically, analysts expect a strong comeback, with some suggesting the economy could expand by as much as nine percent this year.

Beijing usually sets a target it feels it can exceed. It did not set one at all last year.

Announcing the figure at the start of the annual legislative session, Premier Li Keqiang said the government had “taken into account the recovery of economic activity”.

Delegates applaud as China’s President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

The target of over six per cent also dovetails with future goals, Li said, and these include reform, innovation, and “high-quality development”.

Authorities said they want to create 11 million new urban jobs this year, and keep urban unemployment around 5.5 per cent.

Outside observers caution that China’s unemployment figures may not tell the whole story, with many people across the vast nation involved in the informal workforce.

Analysts had widely predicted the continued global uncertainty would make it tricky for China to set a GDP target again this year, and greeted the six percent figure as deliberately cautious.

“The bar is set too low… (it’s) as if there is no target,” ING chief economist for Greater China Iris Pang told AFP.

This could be because Beijing does not want to slash its growth target next year, when distortions from the pandemic subside, added Nomura Chief China economist Lu Ting.

The figure also reflects “the shifting focus from quantity to quality of economic growth”, said Zhu Chaoping, a strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

That could include resources being allocated to long-term initiatives like environmental protection, Zhu added.

Leaders also did not specify a growth target in its new five-year plan draft published yesterday, as is its usual custom, only saying it would be “maintained within a reasonable range”.