China warns of economic distress and long-term ills

BEIJING - China must do more to ease public distress as it battles a slowing economy and rising unemployment, a leadership meeting said, warning officials the global slowdown was colliding with the nation's reckless mode of growth.

The warning came from a meeting on Friday of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo, a 25-member elite council, the official People's Daily reported on Saturday.

The report from the meeting chaired by President Hu Jintao did not mark a break in Beijing's judgement of the economic outlook. But it underscored the worries dogging the government as China heads into the big Lunar New Year holiday next week.

After the break, tens of millions of rural migrant workers will head to cities and factories looking for jobs - which may not be there.

'Our country's economic and social development faces some stark conflicts and problems,' said the official summary of the meeting in the People's Daily.

'At present, the main ones are the impact of the international financial crisis and the clear slowing of world economic growth,' it said.

'Businesses are in hardship and unemployment problems are stark.'

Official data released this week showed China's annual economic growth slowed to 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter from 9.0 per cent in the third.

The pace of expansion for all 2008 was also 9.0 per cent, ending a five-year streak of double digit growth.

Officials have warned rising joblessness, falling incomes and discontent over corruption could stoke more protests this year.

'Problems concerning the interests of the public must be more vigorously addressed,' said the statement from the meeting.

But China's difficulties with struggling businesses and growing joblessness are compounded by deeper problems with the country's 'crude mode of development', which has bought growth only at a heavy cost, said the report from the meeting.

It listed an imbalanced economic structure, feeble levels of innovation, and inefficient growth as among these deeper strains.

'The price of economic growth in resources and the environment has been too great,' it said. -- REUTERS


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