Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Michele Tantussi | Getty Images
BEIJING — China made a rare decision not to set a target for its economic growth for 2020 due to uncertainties about the impact of the coronavirus.
“I would like to point out that we have not set a specific target for economic growth this year,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in an English-language text of the work report delivered on Friday.
“This is because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment,” Li said.
The remarks are part of China’s annual parliamentary meeting, which was delayed by about two months this year due to the coronavirus outbreak that began in China last year and has since spread globally.
As a result, some analysts expected ahead of the report that Li might share a GDP target for a timeframe other than 2020 itself. Last year, GDP expanded by 6.1%, just making the official target range of 6% to 6.5%.
China’s economy contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, while unemployment has stayed near historic highs. Although data have shown some recovery in April, officials have publicly aired concerns about a drag on growth from the coronavirus’ spread overseas.
Economists have cut their growth forecasts for the official GDP — a figure that many economists often doubt. In late March, Beijing-based China International Capital Corporation (CICC) notably lowered its real GDP growth estimate to 2.6%, down from 6.1% previously.
Employment remains top priority
While China did not set a GDP target for the year, authorities still laid out some specific numbers for items such as employment and inflation.
Li stressed that ensuring people have jobs will remain a priority, as it was last year. Beijing will target an unemployment rate of 6%, as measured by the official urban survey, Li said.
That’s up from last year’s goal of 5.5%. The number of new jobs promised, “over 9 million,” was fewer than the 11 million targeted last year.
The consumer price index target was set at around 3.5%.
Covid-19 emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has killed more than 4,600 people in the country. The outbreak has since become a global pandemic, infecting more than 5 million people and killing more than 330,000 people worldwide.
The world’s second-largest economy has been the first to impose — and emerge from — government lockdowns on businesses and social gatherings. The outbreak stalled domestically by early March, and by the end of April, most businesses that survived the lockdown had resumed work, although not necessarily at the same level of operations prior to the pandemic.
During Friday’s opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress, leaders are also expected to lay out government priorities, the country’s defense budget, and plans for increasing the fiscal deficit and issuing more local government debt.