For the first time, China opts not to set GDP tar­get

US and EU alarmed over Bei­jing’s pro­posed law to curb city’s au­ton­omy amid Covid chaos

The New Indian Express - - FRONT PAGE -

WITH its econ­omy tak­ing a huge hit from the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, China on Fri­day an­nounced that it will not set a GDP growth tar­get for this year. This is for the first time since 1990 that China is do­ing away with set­ting an an­nual eco­nomic growth tar­get.

“This is be­cause our coun­try will face some fac­tors that are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict in its de­vel­op­ment due to the great un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing the Covid-19 pan­demic and the world eco­nomic and trade en­vi­ron­ment,” Premier Li Ke­qiang said at the start of the coun­try’s an­nual par­lia­ment meet­ing.

An­a­lysts say Fri­day’s de­ci­sion may have been taken as China is set to miss a key po­lit­i­cal goal of dou­bling its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct from the 2010 lev­els, which would be a blow to the rul­ing party’s pledge to pro­vide pros­per­ity.

Be­fore the pan­demic, China was widely ex­pected to an­nounce a growth tar­get of about six per cent for the year.

How­ever, with Covid-19 caus­ing eco­nomic growth to shrink 6.8 per cent in the first quar­ter, the Chi­nese lead­er­ship felt such a tar­get would no longer be fea­si­ble.

Premier Li said the coun­try will in­stead “give pri­or­ity to sta­bil­is­ing em­ploy­ment and en­sur­ing liv­ing stan­dards”.

Li also said the gov­ern­ment will tighten its belts at all lev­els, and that all types of sur­plus funds will be with­drawn and re-al­lo­cated, to be put for bet­ter use.

PRO-DEMOC­RACY cam­paign­ers in Hong Kong vowed on Fri­day to take to the streets in protest over what they said was China’s fiercest as­sault on the city’s trea­sured au­ton­omy with its move to im­pose a se­cu­rity law.

The pro­posal for the leg­is­la­tion -- ex­pected to ban trea­son, sub­ver­sion and sedi­tion -- was in­tro­duced into China’s rub­ber-stamp par­lia­ment at the open­ing of its an­nual ses­sion on Fri­day morn­ing.

It fol­lowed re­peated warn­ings from China’s com­mu­nist lead­ers they would no longer tol­er­ate dis­sent in Hong Kong, a semi-au­ton­o­mous city that en­dured seven months of mas­sive pro-democ­racy protests last year.

“This is the largest nuclear weapon the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party has used in its mu­tual de­struc­tion of Hong Kong,” Jimmy Sham, leader of the Civil Hu­man Rights Front, which or­gan­ised the mil­lion-per­son rally that kicked off last year’s un­rest.

Sham ap­pealed for mil­lions to again take to the streets, while other ac­tivists used in­ter­net threads and chat apps to call for protests on Sun­day.

Prom­i­nent democ­racy ac­tivist Joshua Wong said China’s mes­sage to pro­test­ers was clear.

“Bei­jing is at­tempt­ing to si­lence Hongkonger­s’ crit­i­cal voices with force and fear,” Wong said on Twit­ter, while

also ex­press­ing de­fi­ance. “Hk­ers will not scare off in the face of wolf war­rior pol­icy.”

Hong Kong shares plunge

While China put for­ward its pro­posal as vi­tal to re­in­forc­ing sta­bil­ity in the global fi­nan­cial hub, Hong Kong’s share mar­ket plunged on Fri­day with a drop of more than five% in af­ter­noon trade.

The Com­mu­nist Party made clear Fri­day the planned law

was aimed at quash­ing the democ­racy move­ment.

“We must take pow­er­ful mea­sures to law­fully pre­vent, stop and pun­ish them,” vice chair­man of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress’s (NPC) Stand­ing Com­mit­tee Wang Chen said, re­fer­ring to “anti-china” forces.

China’s move would cir­cum­vent Hong Kong’s leg­is­la­ture by hav­ing it im­posed by the na­tional par­lia­ment. AFP

AP

Po­lice of­fi­cers stop mem­bers of the Demo­cratic Party mov­ing to­wards the Chi­nese cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s li­ai­son of­fice dur­ing a protest in Hong Kong on Fri­day |

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