Xi says China could have set GDP growth goal around 6% had there been no coronavirus

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping said China’s annual economic growth target could have been set around 6% had the new coronavirus epidemic not happened, according to state media reports on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: A crane is seen at a construction site in Beijing, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The Chinese government on Friday omitted a gross domestic product (GDP) growth target for 2020 in its yearly work report unveiled at the start of the annual meeting of parliament, citing uncertainties brought on by the epidemic.

“If the epidemic hadn’t happened, under general circumstances, the GDP growth target would be set around 6%,” Xi told a parliamentary group discussion on Friday, according to state media.

That would have been in line with the goal of around 6% that sources told Reuters in early December before the epidemic struck.

“If we rigidly set one (GDP target), then the focus will be on strong stimulus and to hit the growth rate, which is not in line with the purpose of our economic and social development,” Xi said.

China has been reluctant to flood its economy with easy credit in recent years as a slowdown persisted, even before the coronavirus outbreak, wary of debt risks caused by massive stimulus.

In its report, the government announced a range of fiscal measures to bolster the economy, equal to about 4.1% of China’s GDP, according to Reuters calculations based on the fiscal stimulus announced.

Some economists had expected a larger scale of stimulus.

Differences in opinion exist in China’s policy circles between those who call for a measured approach in supporting the economy and those who urge more aggressive measures that might incur financial risks down the road.

“President Xi’s comments will likely have implications for the behaviour of officials,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a note.

“The doves at both central and local levels who have been advocating a growth target for fear of disappointing market expectations may well find it harder to argue their cases.”

In its work report, the government said it would make fiscal policy more proactive and be more flexible with monetary policy, while paying attention to jobs and boosting consumption.

“After the outbreak, some things were not left to us,” Xi said.

“A global recession is a foregone conclusion. As to how much and how deeply we will be affected, there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

Reporting by Ryan Woo; editing by David Evans