China official: Expect 2023 economic growth to reach 5 percent

BEIJING, China: In a speech on government plans before the ceremonial National People’s Congress (NPC) in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s leading economic official, set this year’s growth target at "around 5 percent."

The prediction comes after the end of anti-COVID-19 restrictions that kept millions of people at home and triggered protests, and after last year’s growth rate of just 3 percent, the second-weakest level since the 1970s.

"We should give priority to the recovery and expansion of consumption," said Li, who is an advocate of free enterprise, but was forced out as the second ranking leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in October.

The new leadership team of President Xi Jinping is facing various challenges, ranging from increasing US security moves to curbs on access to Western processor chips and weakening global export demand.

Encouraging consumers and entrepreneurs to spend and invest more is a priority of the CCP’s economic planning meeting in December, said Xi, whose government has tightened its grip on e-commerce and other technology companies by launching anti-monopoly and data security crackdowns.

Over the weekend, Li reinforced the importance of supporting entrepreneurs who create jobs and wealth, as well as state industry, adding that the government will "enhance the core competitiveness" of state-owned companies, from banking and energy to telecoms and steel.

Chinese economic growth has struggled since the middle of 2021, when tighter government controls on debt caused a slump in the real estate sector, which supports millions of jobs.

In addition, over the past decade, China’s workforce has been shrinking, putting pressure on plans to increase the country’s wealth and international influence.

While consumer spending in China is gradually recovering, the International Monetary Fund and some private analysts predict economic growth for 2023 to be as low as 4.4 percent, well below Li’s official target.