China’s second in command, Premier Li Keqiang, said today China won’t have problems meeting its GDP growth targets.
“As long we stay on the course of reform and opening up, China’s economy will not suffer a hard landing,” Li said at a press conference that ended two weeks of government meetings for China’s rubber-stamp parliament.
At those meetings, the authorities had said they would target annual gross domestic product growth of between 6.5% and 7%–despite widespread belief among independent analysts that the growth rate has already fallen well below that.
Li said it was “impossible” for him to side with economic bears, such as George Soros, who predicted the exact kind of hard landing Li was answering to. But in his reassurances Li created more doubts that China has the will to reform the backward parts of its economy.
It was the second time in as many weeks that a top Chinese official turned defensive on talk about the kind of economic hard landing Soros and others have predicted for China’s economy. Ten days ago, the head of China’s planning body also used the phrase while assuring questioners China wouldn’t experience one.
Li’s press conference was more noteworthy for the topics he addressed than the details he offered. All questions from the press come pre-screened, so those that are asked provide a window in the government’s priorities, which now seem to be a mix of responding to foreign pessimism about China’s economic prospects and mollifying Chinese people’s fears of more chaotic layoffs like those from the 1990s.
The government already announced plans to layoff 2 million people in the state sector earlier this month but Li told reporters today there wouldn’t be mass layoffs. Two million seems plenty, but his threshold for “mass layoffs” may be the numbers of jobs lost happened during the first SOE reform push in the 1990s when researchers say 9 million workers were laid off in 1996 and another 11.5 million in 1997. A Reuters report at the start of March said that around 5 million jobs would be cut from industries suffering oversupply problems.
Li’s assurances open up questions of how China can manage improvements to its bloated state sector, for instance, while sticking steadfast to high economic growth targets. Officials haven’t outlined how the real problem of the misallocation of hundreds of billions of dollars into inefficient government companies can be solved without wholesale layoffs and bankruptcies.
Until they do, press conferences like Li’s today won’t answer the questions everyone really wants to know about China.