State leaders pledge stable yuan and further reforms

Friday, December 16, 2016

China's leaders pledged to keep its currency stable and trim bloated heavy industry as they wrapped up an annual planning meeting amid pressure from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and European leaders over trade. 

Responding to concern about possible threats from rapidly rising debt, Xinhua said leaders at the three-day meeting also promised to reduce financial risks. 

The leadership promised to ensure the "basic stability'' of the yuan, according to Xinhua. The currency has weakened against the US dollar, prompting concern it might be allowed to fall further. 

The reports suggested President Xi Jinping's government plans no significant changes despite calls by reform advocates to move faster on pledges to make the economy more productive by giving market forces a bigger role. 

There was no indication of concessions to pressure from Washington and Europe, which complain Beijing blocks access to its markets in violation of its free-trade commitments. Foreign companies complain Chinese regulators are trying to squeeze them out of technology and other promising industries. 

Trump, who takes office in January, has vowed to press Beijing for action by imposing 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods. Few economists expect him to go that far but any sanctions could hurt Chinese export industries that support millions of jobs. 

The Economic Work Conference, attended by Xi and other Communist Party leaders, is a throwback to China's era of central planning but still plays a key role in directing development of the state-dominated economy. 

The Chinese leadership is trying to shore up economic growth while reducing reliance on debt that economists worry is dangerously high. Growth held steady at 6.7 percent over a year earlier in the quarter ending in September, propped up by a boom in real estate sales and credit growth. Forecasters expect growth to cool as regulators tighten controls to cool bank lending and housing costs. 

Some economists and business groups say they expect no major new initiatives until after a Cabinet reshuffle following a congress of the ruling party late next year. That gathering might see the retirement of some figures from the party's seven-member Standing Committee, China's ruling inner circle, giving Xi a chance to fortify his already extensive powers by promoting allies.

The statement promised to press ahead with "supply-side structural reforms,'' a reference to shutting down excess capacity in industries including steel and cement in which supply exceeds demand.

The world is looking for "credible signals of further opening and reform,'' said Germany's ambassador to Beijing, Michael Clauss, in a statement issued during the meeting. "The signals so far are mixed at best. The keywords seem to be stability, security and unified thinking, not bold reform, equal competition and liberated thinking.''-AP