China lowers annual growth target, pledges more reform


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A worker welds at a construction site in Yiliang, Yunnan province, February 28, 2015. A worker welds at a construction site in Yiliang, Yunnan province, February 28, 2015.


China's Premier Li Keqiang said the world's second largest economy would target growth this year of around 7 percent, signaling the lowest expansion for a quarter of a century.
In remarks prepared for delivery at the opening of China's annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing, Li vowed to fight corruption and pollution, and stressed the need for more painful reforms to support the economy in the longer term.
The premier said China faced greater economic headwinds this year than in 2014.
"The downward pressure on China's economy is intensifying," said Li.
"Deep-seated problems in the country's economic development are becoming more obvious. The difficulties we are facing this year could be bigger than last year. The new year is a crucial year for deepening all-round reforms."
The opening of the annual full meeting of the largely rubber-stamp National People's Congress comes less than a week after China cut interest rates for the second time in three months, underscoring the growth challenges the country faces this year.
With the ultimate goal of restructuring the economy to boost consumption at the expense of exports and investment, Li said China would push ahead with reforms of state-owned enterprises and move to liberalize its banking system and nascent financial markets.
On corruption, a problem President Xi Jinping has vowed to fight, Li said the battle would not end.
"This year we will push forward the rule of law," he said. "It is also a crucial year for stabilizing growth and restructuring the economy."
With Communist Party leaders ever mindful of social stability, Li said China aimed to create more than 10 million new jobs in 2015.
China's economy grew 7.4 percent last year, roughly in line with the government's growth target of around 7.5 percent but still the slowest in 24 years.
 With deflationary pressures mounting in China - annual consumer inflation fell to a five-year low of 0.8 percent in January, breaching the government's warning line of 1 percent - Li said the government would also lower its 2015 inflation target to around 3 percent from 3.5 percent in 2014.

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