Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Thursday called on the nation to strengthen "conviction for victory" as he unveiled an unprecedented stimulus package to shore up economic growth amid global downturn.
In a work report to the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's parliament, Wen said China is facing "unprecedented difficulties and challenges" as economic growth slows, employment pressure mounts and social uncertainties increase in 2009, the most difficult year since the new millennium.
China's economy cooled to a seven-year low of 9 percent last year, and broke a five-year streak of double-digit expansion, as the global financial crisis took its toll on the world's fastest growing economy.
The country, however, is "able to achieve" an economic growth at about 8 percent as long as right policies and appropriate measures are adopted and implemented, Wen said.
In his report, Wen outlined an aggressive stimulus package, including huge government investment, tax reform, industrial restructuring, scientific innovation, social welfare and promoting employment.
In addition to a 4-trillion yuan (585.5 billion U.S. dollars) stimulus package that was announced in November, the premier also proposed a budgeted fiscal deficit of 950 billion yuan (139 billion U.S. dollars) for 2009, a record high in six decades and nearly three times over the last record of 319.8 billion yuan set in 2003.
The deficit accounted for less than 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), nearly surpassing an internationally accepted risky line.
Wen said increasing government spending is the most active, direct and efficient way to expand domestic demand, while economists believe China's 2-trillion U.S. dollar foreign reserves, current-account surplus and budget surplus offers the government lots of room to do so.
Other key economic and social targets included creating more than 9 million jobs in the city, controlling urban registered unemployment rate under 4.6 percent and keeping the rise of Consumer Price Index (CPI) at about 4 percent.
EXPECTATIONS OF A MIGRANT WORKER AND MORE
While nearly 3,000 lawmakers convened at the Great Hall of the People in the center of Beijing, Zhang You, a migrant worker from central Anhui Province who was waiting in his rented room for a job opportunity in the outskirts of the capital, also watched Wen's nationally televised speech, though the Premier's economics might be beyond his imagination.
"I didn't quite understand what those figures meant," he said. "But I was impressed by Premier Wen's vow to expand social security for migrant workers and help us find jobs," the 30-year-old man said. "I am happy about that."
Zhang, a painter, said he has had no work to do for months. "I guess it's because fewer people are buying houses," he said. China's real estate sector was also hit by the international financial crisis with fewer people buying houses.
But Zhang said he believes he will soon be able to find a job. "I feel the government is trying hard to overcome the difficulties. This kind of situation won't last long."
"I hope the economy will get better. My whole family is depending on me," said Zhang, one of the 20 million migrant workers who have lost jobs following the financial crisis.
In addition to millions of migrant workers seeking jobs in the cities, another 6.1 million college students are due to graduate this year, worsening the country's unemployment woes.
Announcing a 42-billion-yuan central government investment to boost job opportunities, Wen said in his report "the government will do everything in its power to stimulate employment."
He said the government will make full use of the role of the service sector, labor-intensive industries, small and medium-sized enterprises, and the non-public sector of the economy in creating jobs, he said.
Hao Ruyu, vice president of the Capital University of Economics and Business, said to maintain an 8 percent growth rate is "vital" to the Chinese economy and the country's stability.
"One percentage point growth could create 800,000 to 1 million jobs," said Hao, vice chairman of the NPC Financial and Economic Affairs Committee.
Despite worsening world economy, economists are optimistic about China's economic growth as previous stimulus measures have started to show initial effects.
Economist Li Yining told Xinhua that he believes China's economic growth this year could reach 8 percent, or even higher.
The Chinese economy is also very likely to recover before other major economies, even though the world economy is still shrouded in uncertainty, said Li, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the nation's top political advisory body.
"The economic slowdown is beginning to bottom out, and the economy is bound to rebound on huge government investment," he said.
According to a survey of factories issued Monday by the brokerage CLSA, China's manufacturing activity contracted for a seventh consecutive month in February, but at a slower rate than previous months.
INVESTMENT FOR A HARMONIOUS SOCIETY
While explaining the stimulus plan, Wen said the government will "give top priority to ensuring people's wellbeing and promote social harmony."
He said a total of 908 billion yuan of the central government investment this year will go to projects aiming at improving people's life.
Those projects covered low-income housing, education, health care, culture, environmental protection, and reconstruction in regions affected by the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province.
As part of the efforts to shore up domestic demand, Wen said China will increase investment to improve China's social security network, whose low coverage has long been blamed for the country's high saving rate.
He said the central government plans to spend 293 billion yuan on the social safety net this year, up 17.6 percent or 43.9 billion yuan over the estimated figure for last year.
The money will be used to fund social welfare programs, including pension, medical insurance, unemployment insurance and living allowances to low-income groups.
Wen also promised that his government will improve efficiency and continue to combat corruption.
"We must discharge our duties with great diligence and, through our actions and achievements, build a government that is for the people and is pragmatic, clean, efficient to satisfy people's needs and win their trust," he said.
CHINA IMPETUS LIMITED?
As the world's fastest expanding economy, China's policy making has captured international attention since the world was hit by the financial turmoil. Before Wen delivered his report, U.S. stocks broke a five-day losing streak with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 149.82, or 2.2 percent, to 6,875.84 on Wednesday.
Some analysts said expectations on China's economic stimulus package might have contributed to the stock jump.
But Wang Xiaoguang, a Beijing-based economist, said such an influence is very "limited."
Wang said China's stimulus package might help store up some investors' confidence in world economy, but the recovery of the world depends on both China and the United States.
China's economic growth could help cushion the blows of world economic downturn, Wang said. "But if the U.S. economy continued to worsen, China alone could not revive the world," he said.