BEIJING — China’s economic growth slowed to its lowest level in almost three years in the first quarter of 2012, but officials said the softening is not cause for major concern.
In the first three months of this year, China’s economy grew by 8.1 percent, according to a report released today by the National Bureau of Statistics. The growth rate was down from 8.9 percent in the previous quarter and below what economists had predicted.
Sheng Laiyun, spokesman for the statistics bureau, said in a news conference that the country’s growth rate had remained “moderately high,” and officials were not worried about implications of the continued slowing.
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China’s gross domestic product growth rate has slowed steadily since a high point of 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Analysts say the trend is in line with the slowing of economic stimulus spending.
China undertook a massive spending spree, mostly in the form of infrastructure like highways and railways, in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown. In the past two years, it has tapered off on new investments and made other moves to curb rampant over-lending and potential problem spots related to the stimulus work. As a result, the GDP growth rate has steadily slowed.
Still, an 8.1 percent growth rate is just above the level when China starts to worry about increasing unemployment and other problems. In a year when it’s already amidst a messy political power transition, officials likely will not want to allow any further turmoil.
Recently, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke to the issue, calling for greater fine-tuning of economic policies and curbs on state-owned banks. Wen, who will be leaving office in the next year, said earlier this month in surprisingly frank remarks that China’s big banks have a “monopoly” and “earn money too easily.”
The premier’s words signal potential for economic reforms ahead, but nothing has been spelled out as yet.
Meanwhile, the World Bank revised its economic forecast for China on Thursday. The bank predicts that China’s economy will grow by 8.2 percent this year, and strengthen to 8.6 percent growth in 2013.