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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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