China’s top planner dismisses concerns about slower growth

Newly appointed NDRC chief He Lifeng tells two sessions delegates that Beijing will meet 6.5 per cent growth target

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 11:28pm

He Lifeng, a close associate of President Xi Jinping and the new head of the country’s powerful economic planning agency, got off to a confident start at his first media outing, coming up with the numbers and facts to bolster his case.

Unlike his predecessor and many other ministers, the National Development and Reform Commission director made scant reference to his prepared materials when he fronted the press on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress on Monday. Instead, he kept the numbers and policy ideas coming from memory.

“That’s what he does. He speaks quickly and his delivery is concise, not long-winded. It’s his style. He enjoys a good reputation in the commission,” said a source who is familiar with He.

While He largely kept to the national policy script laid out by Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday, he also inserted ancient Chinese phrases to make his point.

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He suggested that a gradual economic slowdown created good conditions for reform, saying people should “alternate tension with relaxation”, a phrase borrowed from The Book of Rites, a Confucian classic.

The NDRC is seen as a mini State Council and has the job of mapping out the overall economic and reform direction. Its first deputy director Liu He is also one of Xi’s close economic advisers and heads the office of the Leading Group of Economic and Financial Affairs, a top economic policy making body chaired by Xi.

In his opening remarks on Monday, He said the NDRC would “roll up its sleeves” this year and be a good “consultant and assistant” to the Communist Party and the State Council.

Several of the questions he answered related to the “One Belt One Road” strategy and plans to integrate the development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, two projects that are high on Xi’s agenda to transform the economy. The source said the two projects were among He’s major tasks when he was NDRC vice-director. “His work is very close to Xi’s thought,” the source said.

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He worked in the southeast province of Fujian from 1984 to 2009, his time overlapping Xi’s stint in the province between 1985 and 2002 before he was made governor of Zhejiang.

He tried to play down concerns about last year’s 6.7 per cent growth, saying: “China’s economic volume accounts for around 15 per cent of the world’s total, and its growth last year contributed to more than 30 per cent of global growth.”

The government is aiming for 6.5 per cent growth this year, a rate seen as key to ensuring more than 11 million new jobs are created this year.

He also said the country’s huge market had “created massive jobs for countries with close economic and trade ties with us”.

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