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China scraps 2020 growth target amid coronavirus uncertainty

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L, bottom) delivers the government work report during the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Friday. Photo by Ng Han Guan/EPA-EFE
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L, bottom) delivers the government work report during the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Friday. Photo by Ng Han Guan/EPA-EFE

May 22 (UPI) -- China on Friday announced it would not be setting an economic growth target for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic making such predictions difficult.

China's Premier Li Keqiang delivered the prepared remarks before 3,000 lawmakers at the 13th National People's Congress on Friday, ending precedent of establishing the year's economic goal during the annual government gathering in Beijing.

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In the government work report, Li said China will continue to prioritize lowering poverty and building a modern, prosperous society but would not set a growth target to allow the government to focus on stabilizing employment, the financial sector, domestic investment, expectations and foreign trade and investment.

"I would like to point out that we have not set a specific target for economic growth this year," Li said. "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."

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The pandemic has not ended, he said, and the government must redouble efforts to minimize losses incurred by it.

The announcement came more than a month after the National Bureau of Statistics of China reported an economic contraction of nearly 7 percent, which was also its first economic contraction since it started reporting such figures in 1992.

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It also came on the heels of Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropping by more than 5 percent on news that China was to introduce a sweeping national security law that is expected to essentially do away with the One Country, Two Systems governmental framework it functions under.

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Li made no direct mention to the legislation but said they will establish "sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security" in Hong Kong and Macao, both special administrative regions, "and see that the governments of the two regions fulfill their constitutional responsibilities."

"We will support Hong Kong and Macao in growing their economies, improving living standards and better integrating their development into China's overall development, and help them maintain long-term prosperity and stability," he said.

Li also said the fiscal deficit would increase by more than $140 billion, creating a 3.6 percent deficit-to-GDP ratio, and an additional roughly $140 billion will be issued as government bonds for "COVID-19 control."

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"Governments at all levels must truly tighten their belt," he said. "The central government will take the lead by committing to negative growth in its budgetary spending, with a more than 50 percent cut to outlays and non-essential and non-obligatory items. All types of surplus, idle and carryover funds that should be taken back will be withdrawn and reallocated."

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Though normally held in early March, the political event was postponed in February as China's number of coronavirus continued to climb. Once the epicenter of the pandemic, China has since stabilized its outbreak reporting few daily cases for weeks.

On Friday, Chinese health officials reported zero deaths and four confirmed COVID-19 cases, two of which were imported, increasing its totals to 4,634 deaths and 78,255 infections.

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