China vows to clean up pollution, further open economy



China ended a major economic meeting on Wednesday, vowing to boost imports, open its markets and clean up noxious pollution.

The pledges were made at the annual Central Economic Work Conference, at which leaders review past policy and plan for the upcoming year. The results of the three-day closed-door meetings were released by state news agency Xinhua.

This year’s meeting was set to focus on implementing the new economic direction Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined to the party congress in October when he declared that China must shift from high-growth to high-quality development.

Xinhua’s reports on this week’s meeting made no mention of an official growth target for the year. But earlier on Wednesday a state think tank forecast growth slowing to 6.7 per cent in 2018, from 6.8pc this year.

The drive to boost imports and open China’s market further could damp down a brewing trade conflict with the United States. “China vows to increase imports and cut import tariffs for some products to promote balanced trade,” Xinhua reported.

The meeting also stressed the need to “expand opening up to the outside world” and “substantially expand market access”, Xinhua reported.

The import drive is also a nod to the need to get China’s consumer class — the meeting noted that the country boasts the world’s largest middle class — to start spending at home.

China is counting on domestic consumption to help rebalance its economy away from the investment-heavy and export-dependent model that catapulted economic growth for four decades but has left it heavily in debt.

Though many analysts believe China’s debt-dependent growth has reached a breaking point, Xinhua’s report on the meeting noted no new projects to tackle the problem, which some economists fear could trigger a financial crisis.

Xi has indicated he is willing to accept lower growth as China tackles financial risk and heavy pollution, with analysts saying he emphasised the point by leaving growth targets out of his speech to party delegates in October.

“The key points are to win the battle for a blue sky, adjust the industrial structure and eliminate lagging production capacity,” Xinhua said.

This winter China took the first steps in that direction, requiring steel factories and smelters to cut production — with some running at half capacity — in a drive to clean up the notoriously severe winter smog.

The measure, among others, has dented industrial output but given the capital a string of blue-sky days. Along with pollution and imports, the government aims to control financial risk, encourage renting in the housing market, reduce poverty and protect private enterprises.