Premier Li Keqiang called on Wednesday for heightened efforts to ensure economic growth in the second quarter and bring down the unemployment rate, saying that the government’s aid packages must be extended to all eligible businesses.
Speaking at a national teleconference on stabilizing the fundamentals of the economy, Li said that China’s economy, in some respects, now faces difficulties even greater than in early 2020, when the nation was hit hard by COVID-19. He pointed to sluggish indicators in the job market, industrial production, power consumption and freight volume, saying that growth remains a key factor underpinning all solutions to problems faced by the nation.
Li highlighted the significance of the current period in deciding the momentum of economic growth this year, saying that it is important to seize the window of opportunity to bring the economy back on track.
The premier reiterated the need to protect market players in protecting payrolls and public wellbeing, a move that is also key to protecting the resilience of the Chinese economy.
The meeting was held after China’s economic activity, hit hard by a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and by lockdown in some economic powerhouses of the nation, contracted in April and was the most severe since early 2020 during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s value-added industrial output fell by 2.9 percent year-on-year in April, and retail sales declined 11.1 percent.
In addition, NBS data shows that the surveyed urban unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent in April, above the government’s target of lower than 5.5 percent for this year. The surveyed unemployment rate for people age 16 to 24 reached 18.2 percent. In its recent executive meeting, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, rolled out 33 additional measures to stabilize growth, including steps to expand the amount of tax relief and offer businesses deferrals in their payments of social security contributions. The premier said at the Wednesday conference that authorities must ensure the implementation of policies already rolled out with a greater sense of urgency. He said that the nation, after having refrained from resorting to a deluge of stimulus to stabilize growth over the years, still has ample policy room and must be prepared for worst-case scenarios. He urged local authorities to complete their tasks for social and economic growth while putting in place sound measures to contain the pandemic, saying that sweeping policies should be avoided.
Local authorities must explore the potential for the rollout of more policies to help struggling businesses, stabilize payrolls and create more jobs, he said.
He stressed the need to continue leveling the playing field for State-owned enterprises, private businesses and foreign businesses, saying that greater efforts must be made to unclog logistics, ensure unimpeded industry chains, and enable businesses to reopen at full capacity.
It is important to take concrete steps to ensure public well-being, including measures to issue unemployment benefits and other aid packages to underprivileged groups, to prevent the recurrence of poverty on a large scale, he said.
Zhou Jingtong, deputy head of the research institute of Bank of China, said the meeting was held at a key period for the Chinese economy, with major indicators slowing down.
However, with the pandemic gradually put under control and macro policies taking effect, the economy is likely to turn for the better in the second quarter, Zhou said. “It is paramount for various sides to protect economic growth, as growth means jobs, tax revenue and residential income,” he said.
Wang Han, chief economist at the brokerage Industrial Securities, said the meeting signaled heightened efforts by the central government to shore up economic growth for this year, including steps to encourage local authorities to beef up measures to protect the economic fundamentals. – China Daily