Top official predicts 8pc GDP rise and brushes aside fears of overheating The mainland's economy is expected to continue expanding at a fast clip next year, with a leading government economist predicting a growth rate of more than 8 per cent. Qiu Xiaohua, deputy-director of the State Statistical Bureau, dismissed suggestions that the economy is overheating. He said the growth rate of 8.5 per cent for the first three quarters of this year was still below the annual average growth rate of 9.4 per cent for the past 20 years. 'If the economic development is smooth next year, the economy will grow more than 8 per cent,' the China News Service quoted Mr Qiu as telling an investment conference in Beijing at the weekend. This is the first time that a senior mainland official has publicly given an economic growth forecast for next year. It could also signal that officials who support a faster economic growth rate have taken the upper hand - in the current intense debate within the central government - on whether further measures should be taken to restrain the country's rapid growth. The economy grew 9.1 per cent in the third quarter, boosted by strong government spending and exports. That put it on track to a full-year growth rate of 8.5 per cent, much higher than the government's forecast of 7 per cent. Mr Qiu said fixed-asset investment, a major indicator of economic growth, so far this year had risen about 30 per cent over the same period last year. That growth rate was high because of last year's comparatively low level, he said. He said China's retail sales, which grew 9.7 per cent in the third quarter, were still low. Mr Qiu brushed aside worries that the mainland was in for another bout of inflation. Last month the consumer price index rose 1.8 per cent on the year, the biggest monthly jump since September 1997 when it rose at the same rate. In the first 10 months, the index, which covers goods and services from grain to health care, was up 0.8 per cent year-on-year. Mr Qiu said the spike in CPI was mainly helped by the rises in food prices - a result of the weather-induced shortages of vegetables in areas hit by heavy rains, and dwindling government grain stocks. 'The Chinese economy has entered into a new platform for growth, and its overall performance has been the best since the [Asian] financial crisis,' he said. Some overseas and domestic economists have expressed concerns over an overheating economy, citing soaring levels of broad money supply and bank loans, and over-investment in some sectors, primarily real estate. The latest official figures reveal the economy has showed some signs of cooling down after the strong intervention by the People's Bank of China to rein in credit expansion in June. Financial institutions extended 61.6 billion yuan (HK$57.9 billion) in new loans in October, a decline of 14.6 per cent from the same month a year earlier, and the first year-on-year monthly drop this year. The broad money supply was up 21 per cent at the end of October from a year earlier. Although the figure is still above the government target rate of about 17 per cent, its growth rate has showed signs of slowing down.