China eyes 5% GDP growth amid steady recovery

China aims to achieve a faster economic growth of around 5 percent with better quality of development in 2023.

China aims to achieve a faster economic growth of around 5 percent with better quality of development in 2023, as the world's second-largest economy gathers pace to build up recovery momentum and push ahead with its modernization drive.

The projected target, higher than the 3 percent gross domestic product growth last year, is one of the key objectives for development laid out in the government work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang to the national legislature, which began its annual session on Sunday.

The world is closely watching for new policy moves on China's development, as national lawmakers and political advisors convene for the first annual gathering since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year. Meanwhile, the country's quick recovery from COVID-19 has raised hopes for wider growth globally, adding to the significance of the event.

China's economy is staging a steady recovery, with marked improvement in consumer demand, market distribution, industrial production and business expectations, the premier said, noting that the economy is demonstrating vast potential and momentum for further growth.

While acknowledging past achievements, Li cautioned on difficulties and challenges facing the economy, including uncertainties in the external environment, insufficient domestic demand, and hidden dangers in the property market.

It is important to "give priority to ensuring stable growth, employment and prices" this year, Li told lawmakers.

This year, China aims to create around 12 million new urban jobs, with a surveyed urban unemployment rate of around 5.5 percent, according to the government work report. Other annual objectives include keeping the consumer price index increase at around 3 percent and grain output above 650 million tons.

The government work report unveiled a raft of measures to shore up growth this year. They include a projected deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3 percent, 0.2 percentage points higher than the level last year, and 3.8 trillion yuan (US$550 billion) of special-purpose bonds to be allocated to local governments.

The report also called for making the prudent monetary policy targeted and forceful, noting that the M2 money supply and aggregate financing should increase generally in step with nominal economic growth to support the real economy.

To expand domestic demand, China will prioritize the recovery and expansion of consumption, it said, noting that the incomes of urban and rural residents will be boosted through multiple channels.

While giving weight to economic growth, the government will not seek growth at all costs. Instead, it wants a greener and more efficient economy.

China aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by around 2 percent this year and "will strive for better results in actual work," according to a separate report submitted by the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planner.

On boosting China's technology strength, Li urged pooling quality resources and making concerted efforts to achieve breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields.

In the face of severe challenges brought by rising protectionism and the COVID-19 flareups in the past few years, China has avoided overreliance on investment as a means of boosting economic growth but stayed focused on helping market entities overcome difficulties and grow.

"We have taken decisive measures to step up macro policy support while refraining from adopting a deluge of strong stimulus policies that would eat into our potential for future growth," Li said.

High-quality development is deemed "the first and foremost" task in China's modernization endeavor. President Xi Jinping has stressed that instead of taking GDP growth as the sole criterion for success, China should focus on improving the quality and efficiency of growth.

Meanwhile, China's annual defense budget will maintain single-digit growth for the eighth year in a row, with an increase of 7.2 percent in 2023, according to a draft budget on Sunday.

The planned defense spending will be 1.5537 trillion yuan this year, read the report on the draft central and local budgets. The figure was 7.1 percent in 2022.

China's military spending has long been at the center of Western scrutiny, and so-called "China threat" has been hyped up almost every year.

Describing the defense budget increase as "appropriate and reasonable," Wang Chao, spokesperson for the first session of the 14th National People's Congress, said on Saturday that the growth is needed for meeting complex security challenges.

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