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POLITICAL ECONOMY
China leaders start key economic 'reform' summit
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 09, 2013


China October industrial output rises 10.3% on-year: govt
Beijing (AFP) Nov 09, 2013 - China's industrial output accelerated in October, retail sales showed a solid gain, and inflation was stable as the world's second-largest economy showed early signs of fourth-quarter strength.

The 10.3 percent year-on-year gain in production at China's factories, workshops and mines announced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) marks a marginal acceleration from September, when the indicator showed an increase of 10.2 percent.

It was also stronger than analyst expectations, exceeding the median forecast of 10.0 percent in a poll of 13 economists by The Wall Street Journal, as reported by Dow Jones Newswires.

Retail sales, a key indicator for consumer spending, gained 13.3 percent in October from the same month the year before, the NBS said, the same result as September.

China's consumer price index (CPI), meanwhile, accelerated slightly to 3.2 percent in October from the same month last year, led by higher food prices, after rising 3.1 percent in September, the NBS said.

The data show that "growth momentum in October was quite solid" and "the recovery momentum is slightly stronger and more sustainable than what markets had expected", economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a report, adding that "inflation is still not a threat".

China's exports, meanwhile, grew 5.6 percent year-on-year in October to $185.4 billion, reversing a 0.3-percent fall in September, the General Administration of Customs announced Friday.

October's data results have added to evidence the country's economy is picking up, and will likely be welcomed by China's ruling Communist Party, which on Saturday kicked off a closely watched four-day meeting focused on economic reform.

The gathering, known as the Third Plenum, has traditionally set the economic tone for a new government, and comes a year after China embarked on a once-a-decade leadership transition that was completed in March.

China's economy -- a key driver of regional and global growth -- expanded 7.8 percent in the three months from July to September, the NBS announced last month, snapping a two-quarter slowdown.

The country's leaders say they want to retool its economic model away from a reliance on big ticket government-led investments and make private, such as consumer, spending the key driver for what they hope will be more moderate yet sustainable expansions.

Also Saturday, fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 20.1 percent during the first 10 months of this year from the same period in 2012, the NBS said.

That marked a slight slowdown, however, as the indicator had increased by 20.2 percent during the first nine months of this year.

A gain in food prices, which were 6.5 percent higher than the year before, was the main driver for October's CPI, the NBS data showed.

Inflation for the first 10 months of the year through October came in at 2.6 percent, well below the government's full-year target of 3.5 percent.

"The consumer price index as a whole maintained stability," NBS analyst Yu Qiumei said in a statement.

ANZ bank economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao said that the data show inflation remains under control.

"While the CPI inflation is likely to exceed 3 percent again in November, the whole year inflation will be around 2.7 percent, well below the control target of 3.5 percent," they wrote in an analysis.

China's ruling Communist Party began a key meeting Saturday to dictate the direction of the world's second-biggest economy for the next decade.

The official Xinhua news agency said the gathering of the party Central Committee would discuss a draft document on "major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms" in the Chinese economy, a key driver of regional and global growth.

The meeting, known as the Third Plenum and which takes place amid intense security and secrecy, has traditionally set the economic tone for a new government, and past meetings have been used to signal far-reaching changes

Recent reports in party and state media have singled out key issues at the four-day meeting as potentially including land and administrative reforms, as well as reducing protections for powerful state-owned enterprises.

A government think-tank, meanwhile, called for dismantling the residency registration system known as "hukou", which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for migrants.

China also faces important issues including oppressive air and environmental pollution, and how to retool its economy to ensure more sustainable growth.

The meeting comes a year after China embarked on a once-a-decade leadership transition, with Xi Jinping taking over as party general secretary before becoming state president in March this year.

Although the economy is no longer completely party- and state-controlled, the ruling body holds huge sway, with officials in charge of key elements, such as the exchange rate, that in other countries are left mostly to markets.

Xinhua said the party draft document "pools the wisdom of the whole party and from all aspects" and is expected "to advance the reform that has lasted for more than three decades".

The agency, however, reported no concrete details.

'Different groups have different interests'

China's leadership recognises that the country's economic growth model, largely based on state-financed investment, needs to give way to one in which consumers and other private actors take the lead in propelling expansion.

But changing direction is no easy task given entrenched interests and ways, as well as the economy's increasing complexity.

The Global Times newspaper, which has close links to the party, alluded to such challenges in an editorial.

"Different groups in society have different -- or even conflicting -- interests," it said.

Analysts say broad brushstrokes rather than firm details are more likely to emerge from the meeting after it concludes Tuesday.

"Expectations are not very high for the economic reform blueprint which will be spelt out at the plenum," Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

"This is because Xi Jinping has emphasised the values of stability and also incremental changes."

China most notably signalled major reforms at a Third Plenum in 1978, when it embarked on the landmark drive that has seen it transformed over the past three decades from a Communist-style command economy into a key driver of global growth, trade and investment.

However, Lam said: "Intellectuals in Beijing are not very optimistic that the reforms introduced at the weekend will be as forward-looking and sweeping as those introduced by Deng Xiaoping 35 years ago."

The People's Daily newspaper, the official party mouthpiece, firmly rejected any Western-style political reforms on the eve of the gathering.

The party "must uphold its leadership... in the face of some people in society who advocate imitation of the Western system," the paper said Friday in a full-page editorial.

The meeting of the full 376-member Central Committee is believed to be taking place at a closely guarded hotel in Beijing.

Security in the form of uniformed and plainclothes police was tight as a stream of black sedans with tinted windows could be seen entering the venue.

Police were preventing vehicles with non-Beijing license plates from proceeding on the city's main thoroughfare toward the hotel, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

The meeting comes less than two weeks after a fiery vehicle crash along the same avenue in front of Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, that killed two tourists and wounded dozens.

The government has described the incident as "terrorism" and blames separatists from Xinjiang, the far-western region that is home to the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority.

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