Why It Matters

China strikes credible note

Since June, China's economic planners have not only faced strong headwinds they've also had to cope with analyst talk of massive capital flight, devaluations by other names and exaggerated growth numbers that hide a hard landing.

Over the past week, though, Beijing seems to have put together a more coherent and credible story.

The new growth target, announced by Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday, aims for expansion of between 6.5 per cent and 7 per cent, lower than last year's 6.9 per cent. Much of this will come through government spending. Hence, a fiscal deficit rising to 3 per cent, from 2.3 per cent.

Mr Li says 10 million new urban jobs could be created this year. With nearly eight million graduating, and another seven million looking for work straight after school, this may not be quite enough. Besides, massive layoffs are looming - Reuters recently said it could amount to eight million - as industries restructure. The equivalent of US$16 billion (S$22 billion) has been set aside for retraining.

All this suggests that Beijing is determined to cut the fat in the economy, even as it allows use of some sugared drinks to keep up the energy. The world will welcome the new signalling.

Just this month, Moody's cut the outlook on China's Aa3 credit rating from stable to negative, citing a persistent dip in foreign exchange reserves. But yesterday, official data showed that February outflow was just shy of US$29 billion - less than a third of the January number.

Helpfully, the Bank of International Settlements now thinks much of the outflow was probably because Chinese companies rushed to pay down dollar-denominated debt before the dollar strengthened.

While risks to the economy "should not be underestimated", it will "absolutely not have a hard landing", said Mr Xu Shaoshi, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, on Sunday. Sounds believable, finally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'China strikes credible note'. Print Edition | Subscribe