China’s premier on Monday cut its economic growth target to 7.5 per cent for 2012 as he opened a parliament session focused on growth, stability and military might ahead of a leadership change.
Premier Wen Jiabao also said China must enhance the ability of its military to win “local wars”, as he delivered his opening address to the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament.
The 2012 session is the last before a handover of power that begins later this year, and senior leaders are anxious to ensure the world’s second-largest economy grows at a fast pace while keeping a lid on social unrest.
The Asian powerhouse expanded by 9.2 per cent last year, slowing from a blistering 10.4 per cent in 2010, as global turbulence and efforts to tame high inflation put the brakes on growth.
The lower target is an official acknowledgement that the economy is slowing as the ongoing eurozone debt crisis and the sluggish recovery in the United States hurt demand for Chinese exports.
China typically exceeds the annual growth target unveiled every March, and most economists are predicting gross domestic product growth of 8.0-8.5 per cent for China this year.
Wen said the “slightly lower” target was aimed at “accelerating the transformation of the pattern of economic development” as Beijing seeks to reduce its heavy reliance on exports and investment to drive growth.
The goal was to “achieve a higher-level, higher-quality development over a longer period of time”, Wen said in his “state of the nation” speech at the opening of the 10-day gathering in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
The country, meanwhile, set its inflation target at 4.0 per cent for 2012, unchanged from last year, after consumer prices rose 5.4 per cent in 2011.
Inflation has the potential to trigger unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people and is a constant bugbear for stability-obsessed leaders. It is especially sensitive this year ahead of the power transition.
The NPC has limited power and the meeting serves more as a grand rally exalting the ruling Communist party than a forum for real parliamentary debate.
Most decisions are made ahead of time, but this year’s event will be closely watched for signs of the way the political winds are blowing ahead of a pivotal Communist party meeting later this year.
President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen and five other leaders are due to relinquish their positions in the Politburo Standing Committee this autumn at a congress that will also announce their replacements.