Premier upbeat on economy Premier Wen Jiabao called for rapid economic growth to combat 'new challenges' from a global slowdown while at the same time keeping inflation at an acceptable level as he visited the nation's developed eastern region, state media said. 'We must ... actively respond to the complicated aspects of challenges and promote good and rapid development of the economy,' Mr Wen said during a three-day trip to Jiangsu province and the financial capital Shanghai, which ended yesterday. His remarks came ahead of today's meeting of the Group of Eight rich countries, which President Hu Jintao will attend. Mr Wen gave no target for economic growth but said the goal was to maintain steady growth in the long term to 'avoid experiencing a big rise or fall', Xinhua quoted him as saying. China's economy grew 11.9 per cent annually last year, based on revised figures announced in April, and economists are forecasting around 10 per cent this year. Still, Mr Wen painted a rosy picture of the nation's economy in the first half despite higher inflation, record oil prices and a global slowdown. 'Since the beginning of the year, we have overcome the difficulties from unfavourable factors of the international economic situation and severe natural disasters,' he said. The mainland experienced freak snowstorms and unusually cold weather this year as well as the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province . With the US and global economies slowing, demand for Chinese exports could weaken even as Beijing faces calls for faster appreciation of its currency, which could make its goods less attractive. 'The national economy under macroeconomic control measures is continuing to develop in the expected direction. The general situation is good,' Mr Wen added. Academic and market sources say the nation's top leadership is expected to meet to set the tone for macro-economic policy in the second half after the release of first half economic figures, scheduled to be announced by the National Bureau of Statistics on July 17. The figures should offer some guidance for leaders to make a judgment on the economic situation after the US credit crunch, record high international oil prices and national disasters at home. Domestic economists are fiercely debating whether the mainland should change its monetary policy. Mr Wen said controlling inflation was a priority and price rises must be kept within limits 'bearable' to the economy and society. The mainland recently raised oil and petrol prices for the first time since November, causing a knock-on effect in other industries. Consumer prices rose 7.7 per cent in May from a year earlier, easing from a 12-year-high of 8.7 per cent in February. Several top officials have also commented on the economy. Vice-Premier Wang Qishan travelled to Shandong province and Commerce Minister Chen Deming's headed to Zhejiang province to reassure exporters. In Jiangsu, Mr Wen visited the major manufacturing centres of Suzhou and Wuxi , saying firms must boost the competitiveness of their exports. In Shanghai, he urged officials to build an international financial and shipping centre.