(Adds quotes from housing minister, background)
BEIJING, March 12 (Reuters) - China will avoid big fluctuations in the property market to maintain the principle that “houses are for living, not for speculation”, the housing minister said on Tuesday, looking to calm concerns that Beijing could relax curbs to spur growth.
Now in the third year of a war on property speculation, the government has largely succeeded in reining in soaring prices, especially in bigger cities like Shanghai where prices are catching up to those in London or New York.
However, some smaller cities have been loosening curbs on buyers in recent months, testing central policymakers’ resolve to keep debt levels and speculation under control.
Housing Minister Wang Menghui spoke after a report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang last week omitted the wording that “houses are for living, not for speculation”, stirring speculation that more cities will risk loosening curbs on home buyers amid a slowing economy.
“We will keep property policymaking persistent and stable, and avoid the situation where prices would rise or fall sharply,” Wang told reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament meeting in Beijing.
Growth in Chinese home prices eased to a nine-month low in January, although analysts said underlying demand still appeared to be healthy with annual growth at 10 percent.
To address the structural imbalance in the housing market, China will “vigorously” push forward with development of the rental housing market this year, Wang said. (Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and Yawen Chen; Editing by Kim Coghill and Darren Schuettler)