Chinese premier Li Keqiang gives dire growth warning in unpublished remarks

Published on May 27, 2022 07:53 AM IST
His comments to thousands of local officials at an emergency meeting Wednesday were more frank than the official readout published by state media.
Li told attendees that economic growth risks slipping out of a reasonable range, according to people familiar with the discussions.(Reuters file photo)
Li told attendees that economic growth risks slipping out of a reasonable range, according to people familiar with the discussions.(Reuters file photo)
Bloomberg |

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned of dire consequences if officials don’t move decisively to prevent the economy from sliding further, saying a contraction in the second quarter must be avoided.

His comments to thousands of local officials at an emergency meeting Wednesday were more frank than the official readout published by state media.

Li told attendees that economic growth risks slipping out of a reasonable range, according to people familiar with the discussions. He said China will pay a huge price with a long road to recovery if the economy can’t keep expanding at a certain rate. That means growth must be positive in the second quarter, he said, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss official matters. 

The remarks reinforce economists’ expectations that the government’s growth target this year of about 5.5% is increasingly out of reach. Beijing is holding steadfast to its Covid Zero strategy of lockdowns and other restrictions, which have brought activity in major hubs like Shanghai to a standstill. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg now expect the economy to grow just 4.5% this year, with some, like Morgan Stanley, downgrading growth to as low as 3.2%.

Li listed a handful of objectives for local officials to focus on this year, including better balancing Covid controls and economic growth. Growth is the key to solving all problems in the country, such as creating jobs, ensuring people’s livelihood, and containing Covid, he said.

The premier’s call with officials was to urge them to carry out policies introduced by the government in recent months to stabilize the economy. Beijing is making sure they follow through, with the State Council, China’s cabinet, sending “inspection teams” to 12 provinces on Thursday to supervise the implementation of policies, according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency posted on the government’s website. The report didn’t name the regions.

Here are some of the key highlights from Li’s meeting which weren’t reported by the official state media, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Unemployment

Li said the spike in the jobless rate -- it hit 6.1% in April, close to a record -- would bring about grave consequences. While jumps are tolerable in the short term, he warned dangers would emerge should the problem last longer than a quarter. That concern, he said, means that economic growth must be positive in the second quarter, and the unemployment rate must drop.

Local finances

Li made clear to local authorities that their economies need to recover so they can generate income, adding that all aid the central government can provide has been included in the budget and it only reserved some funds for the handling of extraordinary natural disasters. Local governments need to support the resumption of work as Covid gets under control.

Inflation

Li also stressed the need to ensure grain output does not fall below last year’s levels, as such production is key to keeping inflation in check. He told local governments to make sure summer harvesting and stocking is conducted smoothly -- meaning the harvest can’t stop even if there is a Covid outbreak. Local officials will be held accountable if they can’t stabilize grain production, he warned, adding that it’s their basic responsibility. 

In another teleconference with officials on Thursday, Li reiterated the significance of summer harvesting, according to a report in Xinhua. He said local officials should make sure there’s “unobstructed” movement of relevant people and machines and “orderly and efficient” transportation of resources. No checkpoints should be set up “under any names in violation of the rules,” he said. 

Energy

The premier told officials Wednesday to keep coal mines in operation as long as they meet work safety this summer, adding that energy would be in short supply no matter the state of the economy. Power cuts cannot happen, he added. 

Li also highlighted the importance of manufacturing in China, which he said was a mainstay that employs as many as 300 million people, unlike developed countries where service industries make up the lion’s share of the economy. The industrial chain must be protected, he said.

 

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