Amid challenges, China sets modest 5% growth target

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STORY: China on Sunday (March 5) set a modest 5% target for its economic growth this year, as it kicked off the annual session of its National People's Congress.

This year's NPC is poised to implement the biggest government shake-up in a decade.

That's after gross domestic product grew by just 3% last year - one of the economy's weakest performances in decades.

It has been squeezed by three years of COVID controls, a crisis in the vast property sector and a crackdown on private enterprise.

Premier Li Keqiang stressed the need for economic stability and expanding consumption.

"The main projected targets for development this year are as follows: GDP growth of around 5 percent; around 12 million new urban jobs; surveyed urban unemployment rate of around 5.5 percent."

Li warned that global inflation remains high, global economic and trade growth is "losing steam" and that external efforts to "suppress and contain China are escalating".

Among the many challenges faced by Beijing is an increasingly fraught relationship with the United States - which is trying to block its access to cutting-edge technology.

The demographic outlook is also worsening with plunging birth rates and a population drop last year - the first since the famine in 1961.

In a work report released on Sunday, the nation's state planner said China plans to lower the costs of childbirth, childcare and education.

On Taiwan, Li struck a moderate tone - saying China should promote the peaceful development of relations and advance the process of China's "peaceful reunification".

But he also said resolute steps should be taken to oppose Taiwan's independence.

67-year-old Li and other more reform-oriented officials are set to retire during the congress.

They're making way for loyalists to President Xi Jinping - who further tightened his grip on power when he secured a third leadership term at October's Communist Party Congress.

Longtime Xi ally Li Qiang is expected to be confirmed as premier during the NPC.

The rubber-stamp parliament will also discuss Xi's plans for an "intensive" and "wide-ranging" reorganization of state and Communist Party entities, state media reported on Tuesday (February 28).

Analysts expect a further deepening of Communist Party penetration of state bodies.