China's Tianjin vows to haul up 'lazy' officials in push for growth

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tianjin, a major port city in North China, said it would hold “lazy” officials accountable for any dent to the pace of its economic expansion, even as the central government pledged to pursue quality over quantity with respect to growth.

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Battling weak economic growth, which was the smallest among all municipalities and provinces last year, Tianjin will step up a campaign to name and punish officials who fail to fulfill their responsibilities and deliver in the next three years, the city’s Commission for Discipline Inspection Chief Deng Xiuming said.

Thousands were punished last year, he told reporters late on Tuesday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of parliament, without providing details on punishments.

Earlier this week, Premier Li Keqiang said China aimed to expand its economy by around 6.5 percent, unchanged from 2017, and omitted previous wording that growth could be “higher if possible” - indicating Beijing’s attention remains fixed on credit risks and better-quality growth.

Amid China’s war on pollution, crackdown on risky financing and a cooling property market, Tianjin’s growth hit 3.6 percent in 2017, versus 9 percent in 2016, putting the city in a tight spot as it faces additional tasks such as President Xi Jinping’s initiative to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020.

Tianjin Party Chief Li Hongzhong said the city would stick to its zero tolerance for polluting industries, and could no longer rely on old industries, an infrastructure building spree and real estate for growth.

The city, home to more than 15 million people, must depend on the “fighting spirit” and diligence of its cadres, he said.

Seeking to ease possible concerns that such measures would imply lesser efforts to hit economic targets, Li added: “Higher-quality growth does absolutely not mean small amount of development and low-speed growth.”

The city is aiming for a 5 percent GDP growth in 2018.

To ensure officials are doing their work, Discipline Inspection Chief Deng said Tianjin will treat the campaign as a “revolution” that would involve constant self-inspection, open investigations and secret interviews and background checks.

Looking to be a high-tech manufacturing and logistics hub, it currently hosts production centers for foreign aviation giant Airbus AIR.PA and data storage centers for Chinese technology firms such as Tencent 0700.HK.

Reporting by Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Himani Sarkar