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Party leaders discuss economic, social goals at plenum

The 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Monday convened its fifth plenary session that will focus on economic reform and more broadly map out economic and social targets for the next five years.

The Party's Central Committee, with more than 200 full members, is gathering until Thursday to finalize the 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint for economic and social development between 2016 and 2020.

The 2016-2020 plan is set to be a key period for China's goal of building a "comprehensively well-off society," the official Xinhua News Agency reported in June. Five-year plans have been drafted since 1953 to map strategies for economic and social development, setting growth targets and development policies.

Party leaders are expected to use the new development plan to renew their commitment to a marathon effort to shift China from reliance on trade and investment to more self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption, amid growing concerns over a slowing Chinese economy.

The urgency for change has increased following a deeper-than-expected decline in economic growth and this year's boom and bust in stock prices, analysts have said.

"It is probably the most difficult five-year planning in history, because the multi-layer pressure generated by transforming the economy and at the same time maintaining growth has risen sharply," said Liu Yuanchun, director of the National Academy of Development and Strategy at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

'New normal'

Economic growth slowed to a six-year low of 6.9 percent in the latest quarter.

Experts agreed that the "new normal" of China's economy will be discussed throughout the meeting.

The "new normal" is characterized by a shift from the previous high speed to a medium-to-high speed growth and upgrading economic structure, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted by Xinhua as saying in November 2014.

"The new normal has constituted a firm footing for mapping out economic development strategies since the annual Central Economic Work Conference was convened in early December 2014," said Gong Weibin, director of the Research Center of Social Governance at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

"During the 13th Five-Year Plan, the economic downturn will continue," Chen Dongqi, an economist with the National Development and Reform Commission and a member of the panel of 13th Five-Year Plan, was quoted by the China News Service as saying on Friday. "China's annual GDP growth is expected to maintain at around 6.5 percent in the next five years, down by over 1 percentage point compared to the 12th five-year period," Chen said.

Party leaders said that they will accept growth below their official target of "about 7 percent" so long as the economy generates enough new jobs.

"We never said we would defend a certain point to the death, but instead let the economy run within a reasonable range," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at a recent gathering of officials, according to a summary on the Cabinet's website.

Analysts from Bank of America and other forecasters have said that they expect the 2016-2020 plan to lower the official growth target to 6.5 percent or less.

Gong said that innovation, startup companies and service industry development will be prioritized to restructure the economy and adapt to the new normal conditions.

On Friday, the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, cut benchmark interest rates for the sixth time since November and lowered the reserve requirement ratio to shore up the economy.

Poverty alleviation

Poverty alleviation and improving livelihoods are listed among the 10 goals of 13th Five-Year Plan by the People's Daily, according to its official Sina Weibo account.

Under the leadership of the CPC, Chinese people have laid a firm foundation to accomplish the first Centenary Goal of comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society by 2020. China has vowed to alleviate poverty for 70 million poor people by 2020, a goal to uplift all citizens below the poverty line.

Experts agreed that the government will face great challenges in eradicating poverty if the economic downturn persists.

"It is crucial to increase earnings among low-income groups while eradicating poverty," said Zhao Xiao, a professor at the University of Sciences and Technology Beijing, adding that the goal might be achieved by promoting urbanization and providing more room for developing small and medium-sized private enterprises.

Lu Feng, a professor of economics at Peking University, noted that wider coverage of social security constitutes an essential part of preventing people from returning to poverty.

In addition, adjustments to family planning policy are also expected to be discussed during the meeting. However, Lu estimated that specific changes to such controversial policies are unlikely to happen, given the agenda of past meetings.

Environmental protection

Xia Guang, director of the Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said that the next five years will be a promising period when rapid improvement will be seen in environmental protection nationwide.

China issued the air pollution control action plan in 2013 and water pollution action plan this year and declared war on pollution in March. Xia said that this makes the 13th Five-Year Plan the start of a protracted and united campaign against pollution, with ministries making coordinated efforts to reduce emissions.

For example, the Ministry of Finance has regulated the allocation of special funds for related projects, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has outlined projects to clean up rivers in cities, Xia said.

Political reshuffle

The meeting is the first since Xi took over as president in March 2013.

Over half of Central Committee members, elected during the 18th National Congress in 2012, have been moved to different positions or removed from their current jobs ahead of the CPC's fifth plenary session, state-run Global Times reported.

According to the report, the reshuffle is "extremely rare" in the history of the CPC, a result, said observers of the anti-graft campaign, which has been of unprecedented severity, and to guarantee a solid start to China's new five-year blueprint amid a slowing economy.

A WeChat account of Beijing's Party organ newspaper, the Beijing Daily, revealed that a total of 104 out of the 205 CPC Central Committee members have been promoted, demoted or expelled from their positions since 2012.

The purge is seen as an effort by Xi, who has emerged as the strongest leader since Deng Xiaoping, to consolidate his power on the Party, removing a number of oldguard leaders.

The meeting is being held in the backdrop of the biggest anti-corruption campaign by Xi, who is set to remain in power till 2022.

A number of top officials and thousands of middle and lower-rung officials, including former National Security chief Zhou Yangkong, have been punished. Over 40 military officials also faced investigations in the unprecedented campaign.

"The large-scale reshuffle helped select leaders of both action and bravery, as China needs such leaders to tackle the economic problems and ensure a strong start during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period," said Zhang Xixian, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

Some of the members may have their membership revoked during the fifth plenary session, experts said.

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