China switches gears in development plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 February, 2011, 12:00am

The central government announced for the first time that it would lower its gross domestic product growth target for the 12th five-year plan (2011-15) to curb blind economic growth.

In an online interview yesterday, Premier Wen Jiabao said growth for its own sake could have severe unintended consequences, such as inflation, corruption and spiralling urban housing prices.

The average GDP growth for each of the next five years will be 7 per cent, compared with the 7.5 per cent average rate targeted in the 11th five-year plan period (2006-10). But the actual growth exceeded the target every year, with the economy expanding 10.3 per cent last year.

However, Wen said, 'Blind expansion will cause overcapacity and compromise environmental protection. Economic development cannot be sustainable this way.

'As the world seems to be talking about China's rise, my understanding is that the ultimate rise of China should mean the rise in its education and its talent.'

Wen said he saw two figures of much greater importance than the GDP: the ratio of spending on education to GDP, and the percentage of GDP spent on research and development. These two figures, he said, 'truly represent our nation's future'.

Wen said the central government had held a series of meetings to inform all local governments that the theme of the 12th five-year plan was to move away from a GDP focus to a more comprehensive plan for development.

Beijing is developing a more comprehensive set of indicators to measure development, including efficiency, the environment and people's livelihoods, said Wen.

'To judge an official's performance, the key is to find out if the masses are happy and what they say about him, and not to look at the buildings and projects that he has commissioned,' he said.

A case in point, the former railways minister Liu Zhijun has been involved in many projects but was recently sacked amid allegations of corruption. When internet users asked about Liu, Wen said the minister's dismissal reaffirmed Beijing's zero tolerance towards corruption.

Graft, when coupled with inflation, could lead to social crisis, Wen said. He said the government zealously monitors public officials to prevent concentration of power, to strengthen citizens' supervision of the government and to offer greater transparency about the earnings of authorities.

Wen said the government was focused on containing inflation, which rose 5.1 per cent year on year in November and has remained above 4 per cent since October. 'Rapid price rises have affected the public and even social stability,' he said. 'The party and government have always made a priority of keeping prices at a generally stable level.'

Asked if he still had confidence that the government could stabilise urban housing prices - another aspect of inflation and the focus of widespread complaint during the past couple of years - Wen said the initiative was 'a hard job indeed'. However, he said it would be a mark of failure if he stopped trying to achieve that goal.

Among other measures, he said the government would build more subsidised housing, which involves building 10 million flats this year, compared with 5.9 million last year. For the period of the 12th five-year plan, the central government projects that it will provide 36 million affordable housing flats for lower and middle-income families, and university graduates.

In the past few weeks provinces, such as Guangdong and Jiangsu have lowered their GDP targets as part of an agenda to create more balanced and sustainable growth.

Policy advisers have been urging the government to use GDP targets as one of several developmental measures.

Beyond growth

Beijing is focused on broader development measures than GDP

It targeted 7.5 per cent growth in the 11th five-year plan, but last year the economy grew: 10.3%