BEIJING China's economy isn't headed for a hard landing and isn't dragging on the global economy, China's top economic planner said on Sunday, but uncertainty and instability in the global economy do pose a risk to the country's growth.
China on Saturday acknowledged it faced tough battle to keep world's No.2 economy growing by at least 6.5 percent over the next five years while pushing hard to create more jobs and restructuring state-owned enterprises.
The comments, as Beijing kicked off its 12-day annual national parliament, underscored the challenges facing China as its economy transitions from an investment and export focused economy to one based more on services and consumption.
"China will absolutely not experience a hard landing," Xu Shaoshi, head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told reporters at a briefing. "These predictions of a hard landing are destined to come to nothing."
China's economy grew 6.9 percent in 2015, the slowest pace in a quarter of a century, but still comfortably the fastest among major economies.
It has set a growth target of 6.5 percent to 7 percent for this year, introducing a band rather than a hard target as it seeks greater flexibility in juggling growth, job creation and restructuring of a host of "zombie companies" in bloated industries.
On Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang outlined a series of targets on issues such as energy consumption, job creation and inflation but few details on how they would be met.
Many investors had been hoping China would post an aggressive target for fiscal spending to prop growth.
But the draft goal of running a fiscal deficit equivalent to 3 percent of GDP, while up from the previous year's target of 2.3 percent, disappointed some.
Xu emphasized that China will work to improve the "efficiency" of government investment, suggesting a desire for more targeted spending.
That would be a contrast to the last stimulus injection after the global financial crisis when Chinese local governments built ghost cities, roads to nowhere and airports to juice growth.
China has massive foreign exchange reserves of more than $3 trillion to tap if needed, but a sharp decline in reserves in the past 18 months as Beijing sought to support its yuan has rattled some investors.
Central bank vice governor Yi Gang on Sunday reiterated Beijing will keep the yuan basically stable and there was no basis for continued depreciation.
The state of China's economy and Beijing's ability to manage it were key talking points at a Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers in Shanghai last month.
Li said China has the confidence to handle the complexities both at home and abroad while pressing ahead with reforms.
"In general, I think China's economy performance has stayed at a reasonable range (since 2015)," Xu said, adding that the Chinese economy shouldn't be viewed through traditional perspectives.
"First, we should look from the angle that the economy has entered the 'new normal' period," he said, in which growth rates have shifted and the economy's growth engines are changing towards services from investment.
In the run-up to parliament, Beijing has flagged major job losses in the country's bloated coal and steel industries. But plans to reduce industrial over-capacity were unlikely to result in large-scale layoffs, Xu said.
Economic growth will create more jobs and help offset the impact of capacity cuts, he said.
Nonetheless, the broader world economy poses challenges to China this year, Xu said.
"First, we estimate the slow recovery and low growth rates in the world's economy will continue for a period of time," he said. "Also we could not overlook the risks from unstable (global) financial markets, falling prices of commodities and risks of geopolitics."
China also plans to launch several mixed ownership pilot programs in the oil, natural gas and rail sectors, Xu said, part of the most far-reaching reforms of its sprawling and inefficient state sector in two decades.
In September last year, China issued guidance on reforming state-owned enterprises, including the introduction of so-called mixed ownership of state firms.
China has about 150,000 state-owned enterprises, managing more than 100 trillion yuan ($15 trillion) in assets and employing over 30 million people, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
(Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Lincoln Feast)
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