China’s PM Li assures country’s economy showing ‘strong momentum’

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China’s economy is showing “strong momentum” despite a challenging global environment, Premier Li Qiang said Thursday, promising to bolster support for business as the country emerges from strict COVID-19 controls that hammered GDP.

Li’s speech at the Boao Forum, a high-profile meeting on China’s southern Hainan island, was his first to an international conference since being appointed Beijing’s number-two official in early March.

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“China’s economic growth shows strong momentum,” Li told top politicians and business leaders.

“Judging from the situation in March, it is better than in January and February,” he said, referring to a period when China saw a surge in COVID-19 infections following the lifting of strict pandemic controls.

China set an economic growth target of “around five percent” this month, one of its lowest in decades as it emerges from strict zero-COVID-19 rules.

One of President Xi Jinping’s most trusted allies, Li has warned that the goal will not be “easy” to achieve.

And in his speech Thursday he said Beijing would focus on preventing major financial risks, promising further state support to a private sector still reeling from a regulatory crackdown on the property, technology and private education industries.

“We will launch a series of new measures to expand market access,” he said, without offering details.

“We will optimize the business environment... so that state-owned enterprises dare to improve their business, private enterprises dare to venture into it and foreign companies dare to invest.”

China will continue to “prevent major risks,” he continued, saying Beijing would “firmly hold the bottom line” against “systemic risks” to economic stability.

Li’s comments come in the face of international banking sector worries and rising concerns about debt-fueled development programs favored by China’s local governments.

The premier also reiterated Beijing’s calls to avoid what it calls “a new Cold War” and to resist protectionism.

China has been vocal against western sanctions on traditional allies including Russia, North Korea and Iran.

“We insist on resolving differences and disputes between countries through peaceful means, and jointly safeguard world peace and tranquility,” he said.

According to state news agency Xinhua, Li on Wednesday met International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Kristalina Georgieva during the forum, which has pitched itself as Asia’s answer to the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of global leaders in Davos.

Also attending are Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sanchez, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Singapore leader Lee Hsien Loong.

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