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China's Premier: Growth of 6.5 Percent Expected Through 2020

FILE - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang waves as he leaves after a press conference at the end of the National People's Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

China's government expects to achieve annual economic growth of “at least 6.5 percent” through 2020, the top economic official said, in the first indication of a growth target since a high-level planning meeting last week.

The ruling Communist Party is trying to steer the economy to more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment but needs to keep it from weakening too much. Growth last year fell to a two-decade low of 7.4 percent.

“We propose to achieve the goal of creating a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2020, which requires annual economic growth of at least 6.5 percent over the next five years,” said Premier Li Keqiang in a speech Sunday in Seoul, according to a transcript released by the Cabinet.

Following a meeting to approve a five-year development plan, party leaders pledged last week to double the size of the economy from the 2010 level by 2020. That would require annual growth of at least 6.5 percent, which could conflict with reform efforts.

This year's growth target is “about 7 percent,” though Li and other officials have tried to downplay the significance of that. Li said earlier he would accept slower growth so long as the economy generates enough new jobs.

Economic growth in the quarter ending in September slowed to 6.9 percent but some analysts say industrial activity might be rebounding.

China's manufacturing contracted for a third month in October, according to a survey released Sunday.

The National Bureau of Statistics said its monthly purchasing managers' index held steady at September's level of 49.8 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate a contraction.

The agency's PMI for service industries weakened to 53.1 from September's 53.4.

Much of China's economic slowdown over the past five years has been self-imposed but a deepening downturn over the past year has prompted concern about job losses and unrest. Beijing has cut interest rates six times since last November.

Li said the economy is functioning in a “reasonable range” and employment is growing, according to the transcript.

“We have the confidence and ability to fulfill this year's main targets,” the premier said.