BEIJING – China is slightly lowering its annual economic growth target, to 7 percent from 8 percent, the premier said Sunday, in a move that signals a shift in government priorities to put the breakneck economy on a more sustainable footing.
The tweak to the growth rate, announced by Premier Wen Jiabao in an online chat with Chinese citizens, is largely symbolic. Economic growth has exceeded the 8 percent target each of the past six years that it has been a fixture of government plans. Last year, growth reached 10.3 percent, making China the world's fastest-expanding major economy.
Along with the growth, however, inflation has picked up, especially for food and housing. Economists and senior Chinese officials have said for months that Beijing must downshift the economy to help tame prices and move toward growth that is driven more by consumer spending than by the hefty investment and bank lending that fueled the latest spurt.
Questions selected for the premier's online chat highlighted popular concerns about inflation and home prices. In response to a question about fast growth and worsening environmental degradation, Wen said that the 7 percent target would be embedded in the current five-year plan for 2011-2015 "to raise the quality and efficiency of economic growth."
"We absolutely cannot again sacrifice the environment as the cost for high-speed growth, to have blind development, and in that way to create overcapacity and put greater pressure on the environment and resources," he said. "That economic development is unsustainable."
The premier's online chat on the government's Xinhua News Agency website came six days before the opening of the national legislature's annual session, during which the largely powerless, Communist Party-controlled body will approve the five-year plan and other policies.
Wen has held the Internet chat on the eve of the National People's Congress for three years, and questions are carefully screened and chosen to highlight government initiatives.