China Abandons GDP Target for First Time as Virus Overshadows Parliament

May 22, 2020 Updated: May 22, 2020

BEIJING—China has decided not to set an economic growth target for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and global uncertainties, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday morning as China‘s biggest political event got underway, the National People’s Congress.

It marked the first time China did not set a gross domestic product (GDP) goal since 1990 when the government started to first publish such targets.

Li pledged more government spending as the COVID-19 pandemic hammers the world’s second-biggest economy, setting a sombre tone to this year’s meeting of parliament in Beijing.

“We have not set a specific target for economic growth for the year, mainly because the global epidemic situation and economic and trade situation are very uncertain, and China‘s development is facing some unpredictable factors,” Li said at the start of the parliament meeting.

Domestic consumption, investment and exports are falling, and the pressure on employment is rising significantly, while financial risks are mounting, he warned.

China recorded a contraction of 6.8 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier—its first since at least 1992 as the coronavirus puts a halt on spending and paralysed production.

The work report also mentioned maintaining “national security” in the mainland and accurately implementing the “one country, two system” in Hong Kong, after a news conference late Thursday evening revealed that the Congress was planning to put forward a “national security” bill for the semi-autonomous region.

The draft bill will “establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanism of the special administrative region to maintain national security and implement the constitutional responsibility,” Li told the Congress.

Few details have been made public. The bill from the Chinese Communist Party, which is choosing to bypass the Hong Kong legislature due to strong opposition, could spark more protests in the financial hub as pro-democracy protesters say it is further erosion of the city’s high degree of autonomy.