210305 china
Chinese leaders and delegates attend the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Beijing: China’s leaders set an economic growth target of “above 6 per cent” for 2021 on Friday, at the opening of the country’s annual legislative session.

“A target of over 6 per cent will enable all of us to devote full energy to promoting reform, innovation, and high-quality development,” the Premier Li Keqiang will say, according to an advance copy of his speech.

Officials avoided a specific target in 2020 for the first time in years, after the Covid-19 outbreak handed China its first economic contraction in decades.

The freezing of the economy then raised some doubts about the Communist Party’s pledge of continued prosperity in return for unquestioned political power.

Some analysts had believed that global uncertainty and distortions from the pandemic would lead China to holding off on a target for a second year.

But with China containing the coronavirus domestically thanks to strict lockdowns and mass virus testing, the world’s second-largest economy is set for a strong comeback.

“In setting this target, we have taken into account the recovery of economic activity,” Li said, according to the advance copy of his speech.

The government usually sets economic growth targets that it regularly exceeds.

Based on many analysts’ forecasts, China’s economy is expected to grow around 8 per cent to 9 per cent this year, said OCBC Bank’s head of Greater China research Tommy Xie.

Apart from a growth target, China’s authorities are also looking to create over 11 million new urban jobs, and keep a surveyed urban unemployment rate of around 5.5 per cent, according to Li’s speech.

China also set the budget deficit ratio at “around 3.2 per cent” — slightly lower than last year’s figure.