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Cover Story Series> Business
UPDATED: April 22, 2013 NO.17 APRIL 25, 2013
A Steady Start to the Year
China's first-quarter economic figures are in line with its restructuring aims
By Lan Xinzhen

JOSTLING THRONG: Travelers queue up to check in at the railway station in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, on February 15, during the weeklong Chinese New Year holiday. The tourism industry has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent years (LAO YANG)

It looks as though the Chinese economy will continue its stable growth trend this year. According to statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on April 15, China's GDP totaled 11.89 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) in the first quarter and registered a 7.7-percent year-on-year growth, above the 7.5-percent full-year target for 2013 set by the government last month. First-quarter GDP rose 1.6 percent from the last quarter of 2012, maintaining a rebound trend that began in August 2012.

The GDP data, the first of its kind after the new government took office in March, attracted wide attention as they serve as a weather vane for the country's future development.

A stabilizing growth trend

"The 7.7-percent rate indicates steady growth," said Zuo Xiaolei, chief economist with China Galaxy Securities, headquartered in Beijing.

"China now emphasizes steady growth. Any man-made growth, such as deliberate investment in real estate or sectors with excessive capacity to make growth data look better, is meaningless," Zuo said.

Sheng Laiyun, a spokesman of the NBS, said the first-quarter GDP growth exceeds the 7.6 percent recorded in the second quarter last year and the 7.4 percent registered in the third quarter last year. "Generally speaking, any growth rate from 7.4 to 7.9 percent can be labeled as stable growth," said Sheng.

In an effort to steer the economy away from a previous growth pattern focused on sacrificing the environment in exchange for high GDP growth, China continues down a path of economic restructuring, which began in 2007. The country is entering a key phase for this strategy. Instead of pursuing unbridled growth, the Chinese Government is now pushing for a quality-based approach to growth. Besides the GDP, other economic figures released by the NBS are all in line with this shift.

The agricultural, industrial and service sectors all recorded steady growth in the first quarter. Industrial enterprises enjoyed steady growth as well. In the first quarter, industrial enterprises above the designated size—enterprises with annual sales exceeding 20 million yuan ($3.16 million) nationwide —registered a 9.5-percent year-on-year growth.

The service sector witnessed fast growth in the first quarter, as shown with an 8.3-percent year-on-year growth. Output from the sector accounted for 47.8 percent of growth, up 1.6 percentage points from last year, illustrating that China's plans for service sector growth are being realized.

There was also a rebound in foreign trade. China's foreign trade received a heavy blow from the 2008 financial crisis, with consecutive fallback in some months. To this end, the Chinese Government in 2012 unveiled several measures to prop up foreign trade. China registered $974.7 billion in foreign trade in the first quarter, rising 13.4 percent year on year. Among the total, exports stood at $508.9 billion, surging 18.4 percent year on year. Imports amounted to $465.8 billion, up 8.4 percent year on year. The country had a trade surplus of $43.07 billion in the first three months.

Zheng Yuesheng, spokesman of the General Administration of Customs (GAC), said that first- quarter foreign trade growth far exceeds the annual rate in 2012.

"China's economic fundamentals have remained strong. The domestic economy is expanding steadily and export companies have stronger confidence. This trend will continue," said Zheng.

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