Wen Jiabao

Wen turns spotlight on jobs in field trip

Premier's statement reflects Beijing's fears over social unrest amid economic downturn

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 3:54am

Premier Wen Jiabao has vowed to stabilise jobs for at least the second time in a month, highlighting Beijing's concern that a surge in unemployment amid an economic downturn could fuel social unrest and hurt a smooth leadership transition.

Wen, on a field trip to the Zhejiang province, one of the country's most important hubs of exporters and private businesses, said his mission for the visit is "to boost confidence, and to pay attention to employment", according to the official China Central Television Station last night.

The first public remarks made by Wen since August 2 also indicate the widely speculated Beidaihe meeting of mainland leaders held in the northern coastal resort may have concluded.

"At a time when the economy is facing many difficulties, we should pay high attention to the job issue," which remains a "priority" for Beijing, Wen said.

The government will encourage companies to maintain stable employment while "special support" should be granted to small and medium-sized companies as well as labour-intensive industries, he said, without elaborating.

Senior officials including Finance Minister Xie Xuren and central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan also appeared on TV at a meeting held by Wen with business and provincial leaders in Zhejiang, reflecting the importance attached to this tour.

Chinese leaders have a tradition of using field trips to send out messages about the coming policy focus.

"Wen's signal to stabilise the job market is very strong" given the weak July data, said Xu Gao, chief analyst for Everbright Securities.

"Massive unemployment would also hurt a peaceful and harmonious environment the political leaders wish to create for the 18th Party Congress," said Xu, who previously worked at the World Bank as an economist.

Wen said the labour market has been "basically steady" and the government is confident of meeting this year's economic goals.

China is aiming for growth of 7.5 per cent in 2012. The growth slowed to 7.6 per cent in the second quarter, the weakest in three years.

Xu said the government has no choice now but to step up infrastructure building in the second half to create more jobs.

Last month, the country's exports rose only 1 per cent, the slowest growth since November 2009 while industrial output growth cooled the most in more than three years.