China sets 2018 growth target at 'around 6.5 percent'

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China sets 2018 growth target at 'around 6.5 percent'
A Chinese military honor guard prepares to raise the national flag before the opening session of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Monday, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders set a robust annual economic growth target Monday at a legislative session overshadowed by proposed constitutional changes that would allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

The target of “around 6.5 percent,” announced in a report by Premier Li Keqiang to the ceremonial National People’s Congress, is down slightly from 2017 but would be among the world’s strongest if achieved.

Private sector analysts have questioned whether the ruling Communist Party can reach that without relying on stimulus from bank lending and government spending, which would set back efforts to nurture self-sustaining, market-oriented growth based on domestic consumption instead of exports and investment.

“GDP growth of around 6.5 percent will allow us to achieve relatively full employment,” said Li’s report.

Last year’s growth target was “6.5 percent or higher.” Real growth came in at 6.9 percent but that was supported by a boom in bank lending and real estate sales that regulators are trying to rein in amid concerns about surging debt.

Li’s report also promised to push ahead with an overhaul of state industry including the restructuring or bankruptcy of “zombie enterprises,” or money-losing companies that are kept afloat by loans from government banks.