Wen urges 'healthy' development as China's economy slows

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has urged the central bank to promote "healthy" economic development, the government said, after the economy expanded at its slowest pace for 13 years in 2012.

Speaking on a visit to the headquarters of the People's Bank of China, Mr Wen called on the central bank to push financial reform and use monetary policy to support the economy, the government said in a statement late on Monday.

"Financial work is still facing a severe and complicated domestic and overseas environment," Mr Wen was quoted as saying.

"We must make full use of monetary policy for the economy to realise continued healthy development," he said, adding prices should be kept stable.

China's economy, the world's second largest, expanded 7.8 per cent last year, the government announced on Friday, in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets.

The central bank last cut interest rates in July last year, and has instead used its open market operations to boost liquidity to support the economy as growth flagged in the second half.

Last week, the central bank said it would start carrying out short-term operations to manage liquidity in the money market, which analysts say will give policy-makers more flexibility.

Mr Wen called for more financial reforms, including the long-held goals of further liberalising interest rates and making China's yuan currency freely convertible, but gave no details of such moves.

In June last year, the central bank gave banks more flexibility to set interest rates, effectively introducing greater competition and improving allocation of capital.

China last year also began allowing its tightly-controlled currency to trade in a wider band against the US dollar, on the long march for the yuan to become freely convertible.

But Mr Wen also called for preserving financial stability, suggesting future reforms will continue to be incremental.

Mr Wen is set to step down as premier in March, wrapping up a decade overseeing the government and economy.

Mr Li Keqiang, a member of the ruling Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is touted to replace him amid hopes the new leadership might be more aggressive in promoting economic reforms.

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