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.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.