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China Reports Economic Growth - 2002-02-28

China says its economy grew 7.3 percent in 2001. But pressures such as the global economic slowdown and high unemployment are expected to slow growth this year.

The head of the National Bureau of Statistics, Zhu Zhixin, says that China's gross domestic product rose 7.3 percent over 2000. But he says China will have a tough time maintaining the same level of growth.

Mr. Zhu says at a news conference in Beijing that China faces a grim world economic environment this year, as well as many internal problems. Mr. Zhu said among the biggest challenges are high unemployment, persistent poverty and slow growth in rural areas and difficulties in reforming state enterprises.

Mr. Zhu says the urban unemployment rate at the end of last year was 3.6 percent. But many economists say the real jobless rate is much higher.

Hu Angang, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Qinghua University, says that China's real urban unemployment rate is around eight percent. He says official statistics do not include the millions of workers laid-off from state enterprises but who are still registered with their former companies.

Mr. Hu says one of the government's most urgent priorities in the coming years is to create enough jobs to absorb workers cast off by inefficient state enterprises. He adds that the unemployment problem is aggravated by hundreds of millions of poor farmers in the countryside, who need to find new, non-agricultural jobs.

The government's target growth rate for this year is seven percent, widely believed to be the minimum rate needed to prevent social unrest. Chinese lawmakers are expected to approve the government's economic plan for 2002 at next week's annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing.