China will still pursue some economic growth this year, despite not setting a gross domestic product target in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s top economic planner said on Sunday.
Ning Jizhe, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that a certain level of growth was still crucial for the economy and to realise a series of economic and social development goals.
“Whether it’s ensuring livelihoods, protecting jobs or eradicating poverty, these goals all must be supported by economic growth,” Ning said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Sunday.
He said China would maintain growth through more reforms and opening the country’s market wider to the world.
Ning also pushed back against suggestions that it was the first time Beijing had not set an annual growth target.
“This is already the fourth time since reform and opening up,” he said, referring to market changes that started in 1978. “The previous three times were 2000, 2001 and 2002.”
On Friday, Premier Li Keqiang’s annual government work report to the NPC did not include a growth target for 2020. The move – a break with precedent – had been expected in some quarters and indicated the challenge the government faces in reviving the world’s second-biggest economy.
President Xi Jinping said that without the pandemic, China might have set a growth rate target of around 6 per cent.
“The world economic recession was inevitable, and there are still many uncertainties about how deep an impact it will have on us,” Xi told a delegation from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Friday.
But he said that dropping the hard target also gave the country a chance to bid farewell to the old habit of putting GDP growth above all other economic agendas, to focus more on a sustainable way of supporting people’s happiness.
Huang Shouhong, director of the State Council Research Office, who led the team that drafted Li’s report, said there were intense debates about whether to drop the growth target.
Huang said the decision was made to free local governments from the burden of a numeric target and to encourage them to focus on protecting jobs, livelihoods and small businesses.
But he also said that growth could not go into free fall because it would undermine employment and basic living standards.
Sun Guojun, another contributor to the report, said the central government would still pay attention to the economic growth rate because a slowdown could lead to new problems.
In the government work report, China still set a target of creating 9 million new urban jobs this year.
That might suggest a potential growth rate target of between 3 to 4 per cent, given one percentage point of GDP growth generated 2.216 million new jobs last year, Liang Zhonghua, chief macro analyst at the research institute of Zhongtai Securities, wrote in a note on Friday.
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