Premier Zhu Rongji yesterday defended his legacy of reforms, saying his financial policies had saved the economy from disaster. 'If we had not practised this fiscal and steady monetary policies, China's economy would have collapsed,' he said. However, the Premier, who has one year left to serve, declined to answer questions about his successor. He said he had 'basically fulfilled' the tasks he started four years ago, adding he was 'proud of the unprecedentedly rapid development of the Chinese economy' over the years as a result of the spending spree on infrastructure projects. Over the past four years, Beijing has issued 510 billion yuan (HK$481 billion) worth of state treasury bonds and directed banks to invest two trillion yuan on railways, expressways, power stations, and the telecommunications industry. Mr Zhu, 74, talked more about his past achievements than the future, suggesting he was preparing to bow out. He rejected a Hong Kong media report which called him the 'deficit Premier' because he had vastly increased government debts. 'I can never accept that title,' he said, arguing the deficit was manageable and his infrastructure spending had left the next government not only with debts but also 2.5 trillion yuan worth of 'quality assets'. China's forecast deficit of 309.8 billion yuan for this year is about three per cent of gross domestic product, while outstanding debt is about 16 per cent - both within safety limits, Mr Zhu said. He said his proactive policy had sustained growth and helped China weather the Asian financial crisis with a 7.8 per cent growth rate and without devaluing the yuan in 1998. Mr Zhu said he was confident China was on track for seven per cent economic growth this year after 7.5 per cent in the first quarter. He said he had fulfilled his promise of making most state-owned enterprises profitable within his three-year timetable. He also took credit for overhauling the banking system, bringing down the proportion of non-performing loans by three per cent, and cutting the size of the central Government by half. Reforms in grain distribution, investments, finance, housing, medical care and taxation were now basically completed or under way, he said. Mr Zhu said most groups were better off, including civil servants whose salaries had doubled. But he admitted income disparities had also grown because the 800 million rural Chinese were not getting richer and in some areas had seen their incomes drop. He refused to be drawn on whether Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao would succeed him after the 16th party congress in the autumn or what advice he would give his successor.