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China Lowers Growth Target as Lawmakers Meet

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Li Keqiang, China’s premier, on Sunday called for economic growth this year of “around 6.5 percent or higher if possible.” Credit Thomas Peter/Reuters

BEIJING — China set a slightly lower economic growth target for this year as the country’s lawmakers began their annual meeting on Sunday. The new target, while only a bit lower than last year’s, continues a long streak of China trying to dampen expectations as the country grapples with thorny problems like the maturing of its economy, its considerable industrial capacity, a growing debt load and pernicious pollution problems.

At the meeting of the National People’s Congress, China addressed issues such as pollution, debt and foreign policy.

Projecting Slower Growth

Li Keqiang, China’s premier, on Sunday called for economic growth this year of “around 6.5 percent or higher if possible,” slightly more modest than last year’s target of 6.5 to 7 percent. Actual growth last year, according to official data, was 6.7 percent.

Even with the slight drop in projected growth, many economists argue that China’s annual target remains too ambitious and is adding to its long-term problems. But Mr. Li defended the target.

“The projected target for this year’s growth is realistic,” Mr. Li said in a report issued on Sunday before lawmakers convened. “An important reason to stress the need for stable growth is to ensure employment and improve people’s lives.”

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, China has rapidly expanded debt to stimulate the economy and to make sure that it hit fairly ambitious targets for economic growth. Reformers have called for lower targets that would not require so much debt to achieve.

Lingering Pollution Problems

The government’s latest commitment reflected growing public ire about noxious air, water and soil left by decades of feverish industrial growth, and burning coal is a main culprit.

“We will work faster to address pollution caused by coal burning,” Mr. Li said. Those steps would include trying to cut the amount of coal used for winter furnaces and heaters. “All key sources of industrial pollution will be placed under round-the-clock online monitoring,” he said.

World Stabilizing Force

Mr. Li did not mention President Trump, whose campaign language suggested a tougher stance against China on trade and regional issues. These annual reports by China’s prime minister are traditionally used for laying out generalities, not specific policies. But Mr. Li built on an effort by the president, Xi Jinping, to promote China as a reassuringly stable and mature power in uncertain times.

“In the face of profound changes in the international political and economic landscape, China will always be on the side of peace and stability,” Mr. Li said. China, he said, would “oppose protectionism in its different forms” and “become more involved in global governance.”

Chinese officials were also circumspect on military spending.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, Fu Ying, told reporters that the rise would be about 7 percent. But the documents released at the opening of the legislative meeting left people guessing about the exact size of China’s official defense budget for 2017, unlike previous years. The Ministry of Finance’s budget report did not give details. Military spending would be “commensurate with China’s international standing,” it said.

Source: NYT > World

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