- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

BEIJING (AP) — China’s economy grew by a surprising 9.9 percent in the final quarter of last year, the government said yesterday, signaling a quick recovery from the economic fallout of the SARS scare and hinting at a favorable outlook for 2004.

Investment and foreign trade helped drive growth of the country’s annual gross domestic product to 9.1 percent for the year, according to official figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

At $1.4 trillion, full-year GDP growth was the highest since 1997, said Li Deshui, the bureau’s commissioner.

“When we look at the economic performance of 2003, we are very happy to see … rapid economic growth, a stable CPI [consumer price index], an improvement in the employment situation, and very good balance of payments,” Mr. Li said.

Economic growth is the primary concern of China’s leadership, which has promised its citizens fast development and a better living standard.

The full-year GDP growth exceeded market consensus, and was higher than the 8.5 percent predicted last week by Xie Xuren, China’s State Taxation Administration commissioner.

For 2004, Mr. Li projected at least 7 percent growth, with a lively first quarter backed by continued investment. He also said consumer demand will be stronger while export growth is likely to slow.

The emergence of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, last spring kept people and investors away from China for months, causing worry of a long-term economic impact.

The strong fourth quarter and full-year GDP growth may raise further concerns that China’s economy may be overheating.

But, Mr. Li said, while some “select regions and select sectors” may be showing signs of overheating, the overall picture is sound.

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