China economy grew around 5.2% in 2023: Premier

China's Prime Minister Li Qiang, reacts during a plenary session in the Congress Hall at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Davos on January 16, 2024. Photo: AFP

China's Prime Minister Li Qiang, reacts during a plenary session in the Congress Hall at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Davos on January 16, 2024. Photo: AFP

Published Jan 17, 2024


Chinese Premier Li Qiang said Tuesday the country's economy was expected to have grown by around 5.2% in 2023, as he addressed an annual meeting of global elites in Davos.

The figure would represent an improvement on the three percent recorded in 2022, when tight zero-Covid curbs hammered business activity.

But it would still mean the lowest growth since 1990, excluding the years of the pandemic.

“The Chinese economy generally rebounded and improved last year,” Li said in a speech at the World Economic Forum.

“Our GDP (gross domestic product) growth is expected to be around 5.2 percent, higher than the target of around five percent that we set at the beginning of last year,” Li said.

Despite lifting health restrictions, the world's number two economy is still weighed down by a lack of business confidence and sluggish consumption.

A debt crisis in the crucial property sector and soaring youth unemployment have added to the malaise.

“No matter how the world situation changes, China will adhere to its basic national policy of opening up to the outside world,” Li said.

He added that “the door to opening up will only get wider and wider”.

“Choosing the Chinese market is not a risk but an opportunity,” he told the audience.

Chinese condemns trade 'barriers'

Qiang also told the world's political and business elites in Davos that “discriminatory” trade barriers were a threat to the global economy - in a not-so-subtle dig at the US.

Li's remarks came as the World Economic Forum's 54th annual conference is preoccupied with a slew of global risks, including wars in Ukraine and Gaza, climate change and the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is attending the forum in person for the first time, will speak later as he seeks to shore up support from allies after nearly two years of war with Russia.

Li spoke just days after tense presidential elections at the weekend in Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as part of China.

But the most senior Chinese official to attend the WEF since 2017 did not address the election and instead focused on trade, his country's economy and AI.

He said “new discriminatory trade and investment measures” have been appearing every year and that “any obstacles or disruptions can slow down or block the flow of lifeblood of the world economy“.

Li did not name any countries but Beijing has tussled with the US and the European Union over trade in recent years, particularly on high-tech and clean energy.

US-China trade tensions soared under the presidency of Donald Trump and have continued under President Joe Biden.

In October, the US announced tighter export curbs on state-of-the-art artificial intelligence chips, sparking fury in Beijing.

The EU, meanwhile, has launched a probe into Chinese electric car subsidies.

Without naming a country, Li said that “there are many examples where one side's capriciousness undermines mutual trust with others.”

But US and European companies have long complained that of obstacles to doing business on a level-playing field in China.

Ukraine support

Li was sharing the spotlight with Zelensky, who met with the “CEOs for Ukraine” group and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Kyiv is scrambling to ensure that support from allies does not waver during the biggest war in Europe since World War II, as the world's attention has swayed to the Middle East amid fears of a spillover from the conflict in Gaza.

“We are determined to sustain our support for Ukraine,” Blinken said after the talks.

Wearing a dark sweater and olive green trousers, Zelensky was greeted with a standing ovation as he entered a closed-door meeting of “CEOs for Ukraine”.

AI fears

Artificial intelligence also dominated discussions after last year's flurry of examples demonstrating the technology's dizzying advances.

Despite the excitement, there are worries about the threats posed by AI.

Misinformation and disinformation driven by AI ahead of elections in countries, including the US, are the biggest global risks this year and next, the WEF said last week.

Li said a “red line” must be drawn in the development of AI to ensure that the technology benefits society and not just “small group of people“.

He said, “good governance” was needed for the technology and that the world must avoid “camp-based division or confrontation” over AI.

President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen warned that “Europe must up its game” on the technology and “show the way to responsible use of AI”.