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China Q1 growth slows to 7.3 percent: AFP survey

BEIJING--China's economic expansion slowed in the first three months of this year, according to an AFP survey, and remains on track for its worst annual performance in nearly a quarter-century as reform priorities trump growth concerns.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in the January-March period expanded 7.3 percent from the same period last year, the median forecast in AFP's survey of 13 economists said.

The National Bureau of Statistics is scheduled to release GDP data for the first quarter on Wednesday.

The result would mark the fourth slowdown in the past six quarters. It comes as the government signals a willingness to accept weaker growth, as the country's economic model pivots away from decades of double-digit expansion fuelled by big-ticket investment projects.

Now, authorities say they want consumer spending and other forms of private demand to propel the world's second-largest economy into a future of more sound and sustainable growth, though they are quick to emphasize that rebalancing must not come at the expense of job creation.

China's ultimate success or failure in retooling its economic model has broad implications for the rest of the world, which has come increasingly to rely on the country as a driver of global growth as the West emerges slowly from the 2008 financial crisis.

Tang Jianwei, Shanghai-based economist with Bank of Communications, said Chinese authorities will be careful to strike a balance between supporting growth and pushing reform, but will avoid large-scale stimulus.

“The focus is still on reform,” he told AFP.

China last month set its annual growth target for this year at about 7.5 percent, the same as last year.

But officials, including Premier Li Keqiang, have been quick to stress that the target is flexible — seen as a hint it may not be reached.

Li said authorities are focused on how growth contributes to improving livelihoods, stressing it “needs to ensure fairly full employment and needs to help increase people's incomes.”

The last time China missed the growth target was in 1998 during the Asian economic crisis.

GDP grew 7.7 percent in 2013, the same result as 2012, which was the worst pace since 7.6 percent in 1999.

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