No annual growth target for virus-hit China, a first in years

China's premier to address nation on pandemic, economy

Military delegates wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, arrive to the Great Hall of the People before the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China May 22, 2020.

China on Friday abandoned setting an economic growth target for 2020, citing "great uncertainty" over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world's second-largest economy.

The world's second-largest economy contracted by 6.8% over a year earlier in the three months ending in March after factories, offices, travel and other businesses were shut down to fight the virus. The virus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late previous year.

"These are extraordinary measures for an unusual time", the premier said in the nationally televised speech.

He outlined the containment measures adopted by China, including treating COVID-19 as a Class A infectious disease and activating a Level One public health emergency response in all localities, but warned the pandemic has not yet come to an end and the country faces vast tasks in promoting development.

"This year's economic growth needs to reach around 3% to create 9 million new urban jobs", Nie said, adding that the size of the fiscal stimulus announced by Li is about 4 trillion yuan.

Before the virus hit, China had been expected to set a growth target of around six percent for 2020, continuing a long-term slowing trend. Private sector analysts say as many as 30 percent of the country's 442 urban workers - or as many as 130 million people - lost jobs at least temporarily when the economy shut down to fight the virus and as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.

China had set a 7.5 percent rise for the defence budget in 2019.

"We will establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security" in Hong Kong, Li said.

The move drew warnings from the United States, falls on Asian stock markets and calls among Hong Kong activists for protests in the former British colony.

China has stepped up involvement in Hong Kong, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, sparking fears that Beijing is set to undermine its freedoms and human rights.

The premier added that the government will "resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking "Taiwan independence", and pledged to continue to take measures to encourage cross-Straits exchanges and cooperation.

This year, strict security has been in place in Beijing, with Chinese authorities struggling to prevent the spread of infections during the period of the parliamentary session, which will end next Thursday.



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