FEATURE: China to focus on sustainable growth, not GDP targets

Writer: 
by Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent

BEIJING (The Straits Times/ANN) - The move will allow China to focus on high-quality growth over the long term.

China's growth will no longer be a numbers game, a top economic policymaker has declared, signalling Beijing's intention to move away from annual growth targets.

This will allow China to focus on high-quality growth over the long term, deputy director Yang Weimin of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, told reporters yesterday (Oct 26).

The government "will no longer bring up the target of doubling gross domestic product (GDP)", said Mr Yang, at a press conference to explain goals outlined by President Xi Jinping in his work report at the 19th party congress, a five-yearly conclave which ended on Tuesday (Oct 24).

At the 18th party congress in 2012, Beijing pledged to double its GDP by 2020, as part of its goal to achieve a moderately prosperous society. Mr Xi reaffirmed the goal as recently as 2015, and China is on track to meet it. But he conspicuously left out any mention of a GDP target in his work report.

Yesterday, Mr Yang said: "China's economy has transitioned to a high-quality development stage, as the lack of capacity is no longer the most acute problem of our economic development."

Instead, the more pressing issue is sustainable growth, ensuring a wider segment of society shares in economic gains and that growth is not derived at the expense of the environment. Mr Yang, whose office is the top body coordinating economic affairs, said: "It is not that we don't pay attention to the growth rate, but more importantly we need greater quality, efficiency and (new) drivers to achieve growth."

He said the government may still set an annual growth target for next year. China's economy grew 6.7 per cent last year, the slowest in 26 years, and a target of around 6.5 per cent has been set this year.

In his work report, Mr Xi also brought forward by 15 years the deadline for China to become a major power, said Mr Yang.

The previous goal was to become a "great modern socialist country" by 2049, the centennial of the founding of the People's Republic of China, with a strong economy, world-class armed forces and global influence.

Mr Xi outlined a two-stage goal - to become a top innovative nation by 2035 and a global leader in comprehensive national strength and international influence by 2050.

Mr Yang said other targets Mr Xi hopes to achieve by 2035 include completing the modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and fully meeting air-quality targets.

Analysts said a shift away from hard growth targets will be good for China's economy if it means less reliance on debt-fuelled investment.

China's investment-to-GDP ratio is almost 44 per cent, and its overall debt of almost US$29 trillion (S$39.5 trillion) threatens to be a drag.

"There's greater focus this time on the effectiveness and quality of growth, with GDP as just one piece of the puzzle," said Tsinghua University economist Yuan Gangming.

"This shows greater flexibility and willingness to look at the economy comprehensively, rather than to fixate on one aspect of it."

PM Lee congratulates Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to China's President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to congratulate them on their reappointments to the Communist Party's apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Congratulating Mr Xi on his re-appointment as General Secretary of the CCP, Mr Lee noted that under Mr Xi's leadership, the party "has continued to make great strides in improving the lives of the Chinese people".

"China's economic growth and contributions to regional and global issues have benefited our region and the world," he said.

Mr Lee also expressed confidence that Mr Xi and his "capable, new team will continue to propel China's all-rounded development into the new era and accomplish China's two centennial goals" in accordance with Mr Xi's guiding principle.

Mr Lee said he looked forward to continue working with Mr Xi to strengthen Singapore-China cooperation, particularly in areas such as the Sino-Singapore Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, the Belt and Road Initiative, finance and defence, as well as legal and judicial matters.

"As you had mentioned during my recent visit to Beijing, our two countries share strategic congruence over many issues and this will form a strong foundation for us to bring our relations to new heights."

As incoming Asean chair next year, coinciding with the 15th anniversary of Asean-China strategic partnership, Singapore looks forward to working with China and other Asean members to further broaden and deepen Asean-China cooperation, said Mr Lee.

Singapore-China ties are "longstanding, strong and substantive", and he said looks forward to working with Mr Li to strengthen bilateral cooperation.