No annual growth target for virus-hit China, a first in years

Darnell Taylor
May 22, 2020

"We have not set a specific target for economic growth this year". China's leadership disclosed those plans on Thursday night, and further details are scheduled for release after Mr. Li's speech. He called on the country to "redouble our efforts" to revive the struggling economy.

China has stepped up involvement in Hong Kong, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, sparking fears that Beijing is set to undermine its freedoms and human rights.

China has reported 83,000 virus cases and 4,634 deaths and was the first economy to shut down factories, shops and travel to fight the virus. That's the first contraction since China began releasing quarterly data nearly 30 years ago.

Private sector analysts say as many as 30 per cent of the country's 442 urban workers - or as many as 130 million people - lost jobs at least temporarily.

The People's Liberation Army, the ruling Communist Party's military wing, is the world's largest standing military and in recent years has added aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and stealth fighters to its arsenal, a lot of them produced domestically.

The Government's budget deficit will swell by 1 trillion yuan ($214 billion) this year to help meet targets including creating 9 million new urban jobs, Mr Li said.

"With an open, transparent, and responsible attitude, China has actively engaged in worldwide cooperation" and provided "timely information", the premier said, brushing aside global criticism of its initial response to the virus outbreak.

Mr Li warned that ensuring economic growth was "of crucial significance" and said pressure on employment had "risen significantly".

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will address his nation on the coronavirus, economy and other high-stakes issues on Friday to kick off an annual legislative session in the shadow of the global pandemic.

The economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter, the first contraction in decades, hit by the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The big deficit "indicates significant policy support for the domestic recovery", Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics said in a report.

Parliament spokesman Zhang Yesui said Thursday the chamber will introduce a proposal for a national security law in Hong Kong, in a move the U.S. warned would be "highly destabilising" and which is likely to stoke further unrest in the financial hub.

Li also promised to work with Washington to carry out the truce signed in January in their fight over Beijing's technology ambitions and trade surplus.

China will give priority to stabilizing employment and ensuring living standards, with the report unveiling detailed targets, policies, and measures.

Ahead of the National People's Congress, the weeklong meeting of the largely rubber-stamp parliament, China's top leaders have promised to boost stimulus to bolster the virus-ravaged economy amid rising worries that job losses could threaten social stability. Local governments have also issued 1.2 trillion yuan in special bonds in the first four months, according to the Finance Ministry. The military budget excludes some large items including acquisitions of major weapons systems. Some officials are expected to hold press conferences online.

The delegates from across the country bowed their heads in silence after singing the national anthem in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. But Beijing has pushed for measures in Hong Kong such as punishment for showing disrespect for the Chinese flag and increasing patriotic-themed education in schools.

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