China looks to green economy to hit GDP growth target of 7.5 per cent

Country also puts focus on consumers to drive growth.

At the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao announced that the growth target for the PRC would remain at 7.5 per cent, the same as last year. In 2012, China only just made the target, as growth slowed to its most leisurely rate in 13 years, expanding by "just" 7.8 per cent.

While the growth goal remains the same, China has lowered its inflation goal to 3.5 per cent, and is planning to increase its budget deficit by 50 per cent to £128bn to "maintain support for economic growth", according to Jiabao.

Separately, the National Development and Reform Commission reported its own targets, aiming for an 8 per cent increase in foreign trade (down from 10 per cent).

As well as the economic targets, China also used the draft budget to announce an increase in military spending, growing 10.7 per cent to £76.41 billion. The Financial Times' Kathrin Hille adds:

Despite the increasingly tense regional climate, experts agree that the days of the sharpest defence spending hikes are over.
This year’s 10.7 per cent increase is roughly in line with last year’s 11.2 per cent hike and a 12.7 per cent increase in 2011.
These figures compare with annual average increases of 16.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009 and 15.7 per cent between 1990 and 1999, according to a forthcoming article by Adam Liff and Andrew Erickson, two US experts on Chinese military affairs.

China's insistence that it will hit the 7.5 per cent growth target indicates the country is not concerned that it may experience a "hard landing" — a quicker-than-expected decline from its current levels of growth to the developed-nation norm of 2-3 per cent. The country has, however, experienced some problems following its current model of growth, which Reuters describes as "investment-driven" and "export-oriented".

As the rest of the world struggles on through the most prolonged depression in living memory, China's export strength has started to look like a double-edged sword, exposing it to weakness it would otherwise be inured to. And its investment-driven growth has also led to massive "ghost cities", hundreds of thousands of new homes built with no-one living in them.

Instead, Jiabao seemed to highlight a model of development which fits with the trend started by the proposal of a Chinese carbon tax, telling the assembly:

The state of the ecological environment affects the level of people's well-being and also posterity and the future of our nation. We should adhere to the basic state policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment and endeavor to promote green, circular and low-carbon development.

But the country still has massive internal issues to overcome before it can really change tack on growth. Local government in China has tremendous independence, and will need to get on board with the plans. Reuters reports:

In a separate document, the Ministry of Finance said it was raising the quota for bonds issued by local governments to 350 billion yuan in 2013, compared with 250 billion yuan in 2012.
It also pledged to further strengthen regulation of local government debt and curb irregular financing activities.

The government has its work cut out.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.