Economists yesterday cast doubts on Beijing's forecast of 8 per cent economic growth for this year, citing the lack of a stimulative package and the conservative tone of policies submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC). They said they were puzzled by the apparently contradictory messages coming from Beijing which promised huge investment in infrastructure, yet at the same time called for budget cuts and lower than expected growth rates in government investment. DBS Securities senior economist Chu Siu-wah said: 'Beijing said it planned to spend up to US$1 trillion on infrastructure in the next three years, but [State Planning Commission Minister] Chen Jinhua said today investment in fixed assets was expected to rise by only about 10 per cent in 1998.' He and other economists expected a faster growth rate. He said Mr Chen and other government officials were also vague about how and where the money would be found. Mr Chen yesterday told the NPC that investment in fixed assets would total 2.78 trillion yuan (about HK$2.59 trillion) this year, slightly up from 2.53 trillion yuan last year. Standard Chartered Bank senior economist Liao Qun said Finance Minister Liu Zhongli's forecast of a cut in the budget deficit meant government investment would not be as big as expected. Mr Liu told the NPC in the new budget Beijing proposed to reduce its budget deficit by 18 per cent, or 10 billion yuan, this year. Economists had been expecting a huge increase in government investment to boost domestic demand as the mainland's other two engines for growth - exports and foreign direct investment - would slow down sharply this year due to Asia's financial crisis. However, both Mr Chu and Mr Liao said it was too early to conclude that authorities had no plans to reflate the economy. Mr Liao said: 'Immediately after the NPC, various ministries and regional authorities would hold meetings to hammer out detailed investment plans. By then, we will probably have a better picture.' He said he remained optimistic about Beijing's plan to achieve an 8 per cent growth rate. He said bank lending could become a key source of financing for infrastructure projects.