China's economy focus of this year's FutureChina Global Forum

SINGAPORE - China will likely meet its 7.5 per cent economic growth target for this year, economists at a major forum here said, though a further slowdown is expected over the next 18 months given the absence of new growth engines.

"We are in the habit of asking what's the growth driver in China, and many hope to see something that would propel economic growth back to the eight or nine per cent levels. But such growth drivers are not there," said Dr Shen Minggao, Citigroup's head of China research.

Added Mr Li Wei, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank: "I can't see, within the next 18 months, any major new growth drivers that would boost the Chinese economy."

The two economists and several others were speaking at the opening day of the FutureChina Global Forum held at the Shangri-La Hotel on Thursday morning. The two-day event, now into its fifth year, brings together top government and business leaders as well as leading thinkers on a broad range of China-related issues.

Economic issues are in the spotlight this year as policy makers and businesses alike grapple with the impact of a slowdown in the Chinese economy. Beijing on Wednesday reported a slight uptick in its second quarter growth, with the economy growing 7.5 per cent in April to June from a year earlier.

This was the first time in three quarters that the Chinese economy showed signs of an acceleration, and helped lift growth from an 18-month low of 7.4 per cent in the first quarter this year.

But lingering concerns about the slowing Chinese property market, which could further weaken by 10 to 20 per cent, and anemic global demand continue to weigh on the outlook for the world's second largest economy.

Economists who addressed a panel session on China's economic outlook over the next 18 months predicted that the mainland's economic growth for 2015 could hover around 7 per cent.

Mr Guy Stear, Société Générale's head of research for Asia, suggested that consumer demand, particularly for white goods, could be a bright spot.

Dr Shen pointed out, however, that even a healthy growth in consumption would not be enough to propel Chinese economic growth to former levels of 8 per cent or higher.

Earlier, Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and former Chinese vice premier Zeng Peiyan also spoke at the forum's opening plenary. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will address the forum this evening.

In his speech, Mr Goh said the world is not just watching China's economic and domestic developments, but also how Beijing wields its influence to shape its external environment.

He added: "China will have to play its role in a way that makes it welcomed by all. This means working with the international community to make the existing world order better for all, including China, in a peaceful and non-disruptive way.

"I believe China sees it in its own interests to work within and help to preserve existing international norms and structures which have underpinned growth and prosperity."